Health officials in New York City earlier this year linked three cases of hepatitis C to an anesthesiologist who administered intravenous pain medication. Although they are still investigating the exact cause, officials are notifying 4,500 patients who received treatment from the doctor from December 2003 to May 2007 that they should get tested for the disease, according to a report in The New York Times (11/17/07). The officials would not name the doctor.
This report comes on the heels of last week’s disclosure that the New York Department of Health (DOH) has known for three years that Dr. Harvey Finkelstein had reused syringes in violation of proper infection control procedures, but just recently sent letters to 628 of his patients that they were at risk for transmittal of hepatitis B and C and HIV and should be tested. Free testing is available from the Nassau County Health Department.
Health officials had initially said that Dr. Finkelstein had caused two of his patients to become infected with hepatitis C; officials now say the correct number is one patient. Also, the DOH has received more than two dozen calls from former patients of Dr. Finkelstein who were not among the 628 patients who were sent letters to get tested, raising concern that additional patients should be notified that they are at risk for HIV and hepatitis because of Dr. Finkelstein’s reuse of syringes.
Investigators returned to Pain Care of Long Island in Plainview and Long Island Surgicenter in Melville to look at patients’ records. Anyone concerned that they had not received a notification letter should call the DOH at 800-278-2965.
It has been reported that Dr. Harvey Finkelstein is among the few doctors licensed in New York State to have made payments in at least 10 medical malpractice suits, based upon federal government records of cases in New York from 1990 to June 2007. Dr. Finkelstein’s record is similar to just 127 of 70,000 licensed physicians in the state.
How the statute of limitations may be applied to these situations will likely be the subject of litigation. One suspects that the courts will try to interpret the law to help those who could not have discovered that Dr. Finkelstein had put them at risk until after the 2 1/2 statute of limitations for medical malpractice had already run, such as by finding, if possible,continuous treatment, an intentional concealment by the doctor, or perhaps negligent exposure to the AIDS or HIV virus by injection.
A thorough review of each patient’s situation by a personal injury attorney is important. Hepatitis C ranks high on the list of public health threats because it lacks a protective vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts by 2015 a 279 percent nationwide increase in the incidence of liver damage due to hepatitis C; a 528 percent increase in the need for liver transplants; and a 223 percent increase in the liver-related death rate. Both hepatitis C and B can lead to liver cirrhosis, and eventually liver cancer and the need for a liver transplant. Hepatitis B has been shown by analyses to be 100 times more infectious than HIV. But hepatitis C is the one strain of the blood-borne diseases that a healthy immune system can get to resolve on its own.
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