It was recently discovered that more than two hundred patients from Shore Medical Center in New Jersey may have been exposed to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV. Investigators say 53-year-old Frederick McLeish of Egg Harbor Township is a pharmacist and a drug diverter who worked at the hospital between 2013 and 2014. Shore Medical sent letters to potential victims on 16 February 2016 and says it will cover the cost of testing for patients who come back to Shore to be tested.
An issuance from Shore Medical Center said that the hospital has contacted particular patients who received certain intravenous medication between 1 June 2013 and 17 September 17 2014. The hospitals says that it is providing free testing and support, and that it has partnered with local health department agencies during the testing period.
The hospital, the New Jersey State Department of Health, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working together to investigate whether certain patients who received intravenous morphine or hydromorphone medications at the Shore Medical between those dates may have contracted diseases.
When McLeish was originally accused of replacing morphine with saline in vials that were intravenously administered to patients, Shore declined to name McLeish because of federal privacy laws.
One Shore Medical Center spokesperson said that not every patient who received those specific medications in that timeline are in danger; however, many potential victims are concerned with their family members, husbands, wives, and children to whom they may have potentially passed on any type of disease since then. One potential victim says: "We are talking a year and a half that people could have been exposed and getting sick from this. How many people could have brought it home to their spouses or pregnant women to their babies or whatever, and they are just now letting people know?"
In its letter to patients, Shore Medical Center administrators say drug tampering may have caused some patients to come in contact with an employee's blood. When the hospital became aware of this risk, it was able to narrow the field down to 213 patients and notify them. However, Shore Medical did not give the exact date it became aware of the potential health risks to patients-a problem we have seen with many other hospitals who are dealing with similar issues.
McLeish voluntarily surrendered his pharmacy license on 16 December 2014 and was arrested on 21 January 2014. He was charged with drug tampering, possession of morphine, and theft. If convicted, he will face a maximum of ten years in state prison. Reports show that McLeish admitted to relapsing to alcoholism in 1994 and that his pharmacist's license was suspended in May of 1995 for four years. That suspension was stayed and he was placed on probation.
That wasn't his first subjection to a Board of Pharmacy order and it wouldn't be his last.
Board documents show that he illegally took hydromorphone and Demerol from the active drug stock of CVS Pharmacy and exchanged them with Restoril and Pepcid while working there in 2002. He did not admit to the allegations, but did voluntarily relinquish his license in April 2002. He was reinstated in 2004 after admitting to the past allegations as part of his reinstatement. When he was reinstated, he was in a rehabilitation program, was urine tested for three years, and was unable to be the pharmacist-in-charge or hold permits for any pharmacy for five years. Less than a decade later, he was back to his old ways.
The state Department of Health consulted with experts at the CDC about the situation, but confirmed that no federal CDC personnel are at Shore Medical Center to assist with testing. A CDC spokesperson said: "The Department of Health is working with Shore Medical Center to investigate a potential infection control breach at the hospital. Although the risk of infection is low…the Department of Health is recommending that affected patients receive testing for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV."
Shore Medical Center has since set up a call center for those who have been affected, as well as patients and patients' family members who have questions. That number is 609-653-3900.
If you or a loved one has received a letter from Shore Medical Center, we want to hear from you. Call us today at 800-777-4081 for a free case evaluation.