The North Jersey surgery center that possibly exposed thousands of patients to HIV and hepatitis B and C responded on Saturday to the release of a state report that blasted the facility’s past infection control practices.
Representatives of the HealthPlus Surgery Center in Saddle Brook said at a press conference that of the 3,778 patients possibly exposed to the dangerous diseases by lapses in sterilization procedures, just 186 have been tested so far.
Of the patients that have been tested, one has tested positive for hepatitis C.
It is unclear if that patient’s hepatitis C was a preexisting condition, or if the patient contracted the disease after being exposed at HealthPlus according to Mark Manigan, a lawyer representing the surgery center. Manigan said that the New Jersey Department of Health will handle the investigation to determine whether or not HealthPlus caused the patient to contract the disease. Manigan added that it may take weeks or months for the state health department to make that determination.
The state health department maintains that the risk of exposure for the affected patients is low. Letters to affected patients were sent out earlier this month. Manigan emphasized that it is up to the patients to decide whether or not to get tested.
Meanwhile, HealthPlus is being taken to court in a new class action lawsuit filed in Bergen County Superior Court on Friday.
Lauren Marrero and Julio Marrero, a married couple living in Bloomingdale, filed the lawsuit against the HealthPlus. According to Michael Maggiano, the couple’s attorney, Lauren underwent a spinal epidural, a pain management procedure, under anesthesia at HealthPlus in April.
Now, Maggiano says, the Marreros are struggling with the possibility that Lauren may have contracted a life-altering disease from the surgery center during her operation. The attorney described his clients, and all the patients affected by HealthPlus’s missteps, as regular people that are “devastated” by the emotional trauma of the potential exposure.
The Marreros, and any other patients who join their lawsuit, are seeking a jury trial and requesting that the jury award them a just reward. Maggiano said that he currently has three clients for the lawsuit and that he expects that number to grow.
Manigan had no comment on the lawsuit.
The HealthPlus press conference came after the state health department released on Friday a Sept. 7 report detailing infection control shortcomings at the facility. Manigan emphasized that state-approved corrective actions have been taken to address the issues identified by the state.
“I think patients can rest assured that the New Jersey Department of Health did a thorough investigation,” Manigan said. “The response to that [investigation] was thorough, comprehensive and robust. The situation is being monitored very closely, and if the Department of Health and the State of New Jersey puts their imprimatur on a facility after an event like this, I think anyone can feel safe about coming here.”
The lack of proper sterilization and the improper use of multi-dose medicines at HealthPlus were compounded by the fact that patients with preexisting cases of HIV and hepatitis B and C were operated on at the facility, according to Manigan. That meant that the diseases were introduced into the surgery center, and the lack of sterilization potentially allowed them to hang around and infect other patients.
The state report also found that controlled substances, particularly opioids like fentanyl, frequently went missing from HealthPlus. Manigan said that the people believed to be responsible for the missing medicine are no longer associated with the surgery center.
Manigan added that an internal investigation into the missing drugs was conducted to determine where they were going, but he said the investigation was inconclusive.
“Someone was either throwing out the medication, or it was being stolen,” Manigan previously told NJ Advance Media when asked about the missing opioids.
HealthPlus was closed by the state immediately after the Sept. 7 inspection. In the aftermath of the inspection, HealthPlus took state-approved corrective actions to address the problems that had been found. As part of this, HealthPlus fired its director of nursing and two other employees that were involved in sterilization processing, then hired new people to fill those three positions. The surgery center reopened on Sept. 28.
But those changes have provided little comfort to already affect patients, according to Maggiano, who added that the lack of changes in management raises doubts about whether or not the corrections will be enough.
“Nothing this massive over such a span of time happens just because of two low level employees,” Maggiano said. “This was a system failure, and we know that system failures happen at the top.”
The owner of HealthPlus, Long Island real estate millionaire Yan Moshe, was not at the press conference.
Besides HealthPlus, Moshe also owns Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus and Dynamic Surgery Center in Hackensack. Dynamic was last inspected the by state in June; the inspection report is not currently available online but Manigan said the facility “passed with flying colors.”
HealthPlus has created a website, www.healthplusnj.com, dedicated to the situation that Manigan said will post updates going forward. Those affected can call 1-888-507-0578 weekdays between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. to schedule a test at Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus, or at LabCorp locations in New Jersey or New York.
Read the Marrero’s complaint against HealthPlus below