An Amesbury woman is suing Salem Hospital after she and hundreds of other patients may have been exposed to hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV during a medical imaging procedure.
Keches Law Group has filed a class action lawsuit against Mass General Brigham, Salem Hospital and 10 hospital employees on behalf of plaintiff Melinda Cashman, a resident of Amesbury whom the firm says “suffered permanent injuries, additional testing requirements, extreme anxiety, emotional distress, and decreased quality of life due to potential exposure to these infections.”
Hospital officials revealed on Wednesday that roughly 450 patients receiving an endoscopy between June 2021 and April 2023 were potentially exposed during the administration of IV medications “in a manner not consistent with our best practice.”
Cashman received a letter from Mitchell Rein, chief medical officer and senior vice president of medical affairs at Salem Hospital, on the afternoon of Nov. 3, a Friday, when she got home from work.
The letter did not define whether the infection was viral or bacterial, informing patients potentially affected to contact the hospital Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
It was 4:45 when Cashman said she got the letter, meaning she had little to no outlets to seek answers from over the weekend.
“I did a lot of googling and research to try to figure it out, but I didn’t know what I was doing because everything was just the word ‘infection.’ There are so many different infections it could have been,” Cashman told reporters Friday afternoon at Keches Law’s Milton office.
“I literally just couldn’t stop trying to figure it out,” she continued. “Was I going to need a kidney or liver transplant? Was I going to get an infection that was going to require me to not be around anymore, and I’m the sole caregiver of my parents? There are a lot of things that went through my brain.”
Keches Law, in a release, highlighted the hospital notified Cashman that “she would need to undergo testing, screening and an evaluation to determine whether she was infected, a process that could take months or even years. As a result, she will continue to suffer severe emotional distress and mental anguish.”
Attorneys representing Cashman and “others similarly situated” have indicated the focus of the lawsuit is primarily to get answers to a wide array of questions, more so than seeking financial damages.
Cashman has taken tests, which she said she had to fight for to be done on the spot, but a doctor has yet to review them, causing further confusion on how to proceed.
“The fix is to be transparent, to give the patients a clear idea about what happened, how it happened, and what they could and should do going forward,” attorney Jonathan Sweet said. “Patients are unsatisfied with just getting uninterpretable lab results sent to them.”
A statement from the hospital highlighting the development on Wednesday did not provide details on how the exposure may have occurred and how it was corrected. Officials have remained mum about specifics since.
After becoming aware of the issue earlier this year, officials said they fixed the practice and notified its quality and infection control teams.
“Salem Hospital has notified all potentially impacted patients, set up a clinician-staffed hotline to answer questions, and we are providing them with free screening and any necessary support,” officials said in a statement. “There is no evidence to date of any infections resulting from this incident.”
The hospital has been working with the state Department of Public Health in managing the situation, with the department conducting an onsite investigation.
A department spokesperson told news outlets that the department also advised the hospital “to offer free-of-charge follow-up care, including testing.”
The tests being offered are “standard tests for an exposure of this kind because they are common blood-borne pathogenic viruses that often don’t produce symptomatic infection,” a hospital spokesperson said.
Keches Law received about a dozen calls on Friday from “extremely concerned and anxious” patients who are feeling “betrayed,” attorney Jeff Catalano said. Some calls came in every five to 10 minutes, he said.
“Let’s keep in mind, these are vulnerable people,” Catalano said. “These are people who have undergone an endoscopic procedure for a very specific reason. That reason being that they have some medical complication … that is potentially on its own life altering and potentially life threatening.”