A former nurse anesthetist at Norman (Okla.) Regional Hospital, the site of a hepatitis C outbreak now prompting dozens of malpractice lawsuits, was charged with unprofessional conduct and acting against the public interest in connection with the case. According to state health officials, James Charles Hill, 55, said he reused needles up to 25 times a day when injecting patients for pain management procedures. Norman Regional has tested more than 1,000 former patients for hepatitis C since the outbreak became apparent, and more than 52 former patients of its pain management clinic have tested positive for exposure, hospital officials said. Dozens of malpractice lawsuits have been filed against Norman Regional, Hill and Jerry Lewis, M.D., the anesthesiologist supervising Hill. Neither man is now practicing at the hospital, officials said. The Oklahoma Board of Nursing will hold a Nov. 21 hearing on its charges against Hill and could revoke his license for up to five years if the charges are found valid.
"While hospitals nationwide have concentrated upon educating their employees about infection control and the need for strict precautions with respect to blood borne pathogens, physicians and professional clinicians have traditionally received their training on these subjects through their medical education and their own professional organizations," Norman Regional President and CEO David Whitaker said in a written statement late last month. "Recent events have shown that hospitals need to implement a safety net to ensure that all medical staff members have, in fact, received this training and are following these precautions." -- by Julie Piotrowski