We are continuing our discussion of a case from outside of North Carolina that involves patient safety and racketeering insurance fraud. The three defendants — a doctor and two of his nurse anesthetists — now face second-degree murder charges.
Prosecutors claim that the doctor, as the head of a number of endoscopy clinics, ordered his staff to reuse single-use vials of anesthesia as well as needles. Safety protocols warn against both practices because of the increased risk of AIDS and hepatitis B and C. In 2007, seven former patients received diagnoses of hepatitis C. In 2008, the outbreak came to the attention of law enforcement, and criminal investigators reportedly discovered that more than 40,000 patients could be at risk of infection.
The racketeering charges do not involve patient safety issues. The prosecution says the defendants falsified patient anesthesia records from different procedures performed at the clinic; they also pressured other employees to do the same. The defendants then allegedly sent the falsified records to insurance companies for reimbursement.
Both defense and prosecution were preparing for the October 2012 trial on those charges when they got word that a former clinic patient with hepatitis C had died. The cause of death was reportedly complications from chronic hepatitis C.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the hepatitis C virus can lead to a chronic infection that eventually takes a toll on the patient’s overall health. Liver disease is the most common long-term effect. The CDC also says that the virus is fatal for 5 percent or fewer of those infected.
The trial on the original charges — 28 counts for each defendant — has already been postponed once, while the state determined if the doctor was competent. It is unclear whether the second-degree murder charges will be addressed at the same trial.
Source: Courthouse News Service, “Murder Charges Filed in Hep C Outbreak,” Nick Divito, Aug. 13, 2012
Our firm handles similar situations to the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our North Carolina federal criminal defense page.