SOMERS POINT, N.J. -- Officials at a southern New Jersey hospital have notified 213 patients they may have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis B or C because of drug tampering that may have caused patients to come in contact with an employee's blood.
The warning applied to patients at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point who received intravenous morphine or hydromorphone medications at the hospitals between June 1, 2013, and Sept. 17, 2014, the medical center said.
A former pharmacist at the hospital allegedly tampered with the drugs by replacing morphine with saline solution in vials that were administered to patients, according to an internal investigation at the hospital and the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office.
The ex-employee was arrested last month and charged with drug tampering, theft and drug possession.
In its letter to patients, the hospital said the tampering may have caused patients to come in contact with the ex-employee's blood and urged patients to get tested, The Press of Atlantic City reported. The hospital said it's providing free testing for patients who may have been exposed and has set up a dedicated call center for affected patients and family members who have questions.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health said the agency is investigating a potential infection control breach at the hospital.
Arlene Polmonari, of Atlantic City, received the letter last week that she might have been exposed to the diseases due to past surgeries for a knee replacement and a procedure for her back.
"A phone call would have been nicer than this," said Polmonari, who tested negative for the diseases. "You know, to soften the blow a little, make people not feel so hysterical about it."
According to CBS Philadelphia, Brian Cahill, of Shore Medical Center, released a statement saying the hospital takes "patient care very seriously."
"We have been working with public health authorities to determine if patients could have been exposed to blood borne pathogens at Shore through contact with this employee's blood," Cahill said in the statement. "We have contacted all patients who received certain intravenous medications between June 1, 2013 and September 17, 2014. We are providing free testing and support through every step and are partnering with local health department agencies during this testing period in order to be extremely cautious."
Earlier this month, a hospital in Colorado notified surgery patients that they should get tested for HIV and hepatitis B and C, after a former surgical technician allegedly removed a syringe containing the narcotic drug Fentanyl Citrate from a workspace and replaced it with a similar syringe at the beginning of a surgery.
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