Settlement Reached After HCV Outbreak in ND Nursing Home

What Happened?

In 2013, 53 residents of a nursing home called ManorCare in Minot, North Dakota were infected with the hepatitis C virus and hundreds more were assumed to have been exposed to the virus, which was one of the biggest outbreaks of this virus in recent history, as well as one of the largest ever within a nursing home setting. There has been an ongoing debate as to the specifics of what occurred that led to this outbreak. First, there is a concern as to what actions led to the infection. Some think it may have been poor wound care or toenail grooming using infected instruments, but they have no proof of this belief. Next, the concern is on who is to blame, as the nursing home’s staff was provided by Trinity Health, which is a health care conglomerate. Some believe that Trinity’s outpatient laboratory caused the hepatitis C outbreak by sending infected needles to the nursing home for use in its residents. After years of research, however, the state and federal health officials who were investigating never figured out the true cause of the infection’s spread and they have closed that investigation.

Initially, 21 people who were either infected patients or families of infected patients who have since died filed a lawsuit against ManorCare and against Trinity Health. However, the group eventually chose to drop their lawsuit against ManorCare and focus their efforts instead on Trinity Health.

In late 2016, Trinity Health decided to settle the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount of money. They never took responsibility for the outbreak and have consistently said they were not to blame; however, they say that settling this case is better for them and their employees than to continue to fight the case in court.

Although the individuals involved in the outbreak have now had their case settled with Trinity Health, there remains an ongoing legal battle between Trinity Health and ManorCare, as ManorCare is suing Trinity Health for their negligence and for putting ManorCare’s residents through this ordeal. In addition, the situation led to a significant drop in the value of ManorCare. Before this situation, the facility was estimated to be worth $23 million dollars, yet it was sold in 2015 (after the outbreak) for less than $8 million dollars. ManorCare’s lawsuit is demanding that Trinity Health takes responsibility for the ways their actions led to ManorCare’s significantly reduced value and their ruined reputation.

Why It Matters

A nursing home system is very common in the United States as an option for people who are unable to provide fulltime care for their aging loved ones. In fact, approximately 5% of the Americans who are aged 65+ reside in nursing homes or other assisted living care facilities. When there is a news story of elders being mistreated or exposed to illnesses due to negligence, it can cause significant concern for anyone whose loved one lives in a similar living situation. This can create undue stress for everyone involved, including unnecessary panic within elders who suddenly become fearful or mistrusting of their care providers, whose jobs are already taxing and difficult.

However, when these concerns become public discussion, some facilities are forced to review or reevaluate their current internal systems, including reconsidering their medical partnerships and their standard protocols. It can lead to retraining current staff or increasing training methods for new staff. It can also lead to new educational programs for elders and their families in order to both reassure them and to help them to be best prepared to protect themselves from illnesses that can be spread through contamination, such as hepatitis C. Although the news of this specific situation was horrible and produced significant stress for many, it was also a wonderful opportunity for education, re-education, and the creation of new or improved policies to better protect senior citizens in the future.

What Happens Next?

The case of ManorCare vs. Trinity Health may go to court or Trinity Health may again decide to settle out of court for an undisclosed amount.

In addition, the legal ramifications may cause other hospitals, nursing homes, and other care facilities to implement new or updated protocols in order to avoid a similar outbreak or legal struggle. This may create new preventative measures and it may catch problematic situations before people can be exposed to hepatitis C and have to endure lengthy and expensive medical treatment to remove the infection from their body or to experience permanent physical deficits due to their hepatitis C infection. This can significantly lower the risks in the overall care facilities industry and create a safer environment for its staff and its residents.1-6

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