In mid-May an investigation began when four patients from the Exeter Hospital's cardiac catheterization lab were diagnosed with hepatitis C in an apparent hepatitis outbreak, reported
The Associated Press.
In the second week of June, the investigation concluded that the most likely cause was a health worker at the hospital had engaged in what is called “drug diversion,” reports the AP.
Drug diversion means that the employee was using the drugs intended for a patient, and then re-using the syringe to administer the medication to the patient, according to the Boston Herald.
Whatever the actual cause of the hepatitis outbreak, 20 people have been infected with the contagious liver disease. The investigation is most likely to collect evidence to defend the likely medical malpractice suits that are to follow from the outbreak.
First of all, it is possible to file a malpractice suit directly against the hospital. The suit against the hospital can be for failure of the entire entity to provide care, or against the hospital for the actions of its staff. Since medical malpractice is merely a negligence suit with a special standard of care for doctors, the biggest issue here is probably whether the hospital exercised proper care when it hired or supervised the worker that was engaged in drug diversion (if that was the actual cause), or whether the hospital took enough action to protect its patients.
To address the potential for malpractice suits, the hospital's spokesman made the statement that no lapses in protocol or behavior have be found, according to the Herald. If this is the case, then the hospital has a good defense to a case based on failing to protect its patients because a hospital's protocol is formed to assure the protection of patients.
Most likely, there will be a successful negligent hiring case if the hospital discovers that there was a person diverting drugs and who that person was. Then a plaintiff could show that the hospital did not do enough screening of its employees because it is possible that the drug use could have been discovered prior to hiring.
In any case, the hepatitis outbreak will be a black mark on the hospital's history, no matter if they discover the drug diversion or another cause.