WRAL Investigates

Wayne assisted living center fined $16K after six hepatitis deaths

Posted July 23, 2011 3:06 p.m. EDT

— The owners of a Wayne County assisted living center have been fined $16,000 after a hepatitis B outbreak that killed six people last year.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services levied the fine against Glen Care of Mount Olive on Wednesday. The state released the information Friday after being notified the facility received the letter.

Last year, state health officials found violations at the facility involving unsafe sharing of blood glucose monitoring equipment. They said the faulty procedures likely spread Hepatitis B to eight elderly residents, including six who died.

A state review committee had unanimously recommended the fine. The company can appeal or must pay the fine within 60 days.

In February, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the hepatitis-related deaths showed the need for vigilance in infection control.

Investigators with the state Division of Public Health issued a report last November that said unsafe practices with blood-glucose monitors likely spread the illness. The monitors were sometimes stored together, weren't labeled with residents' names and weren't disinfected after each use, according to investigators.

A subsequent report by the state Division of Health Service Regulation included information from Glen Care staffers who said lancing devices for blood-glucose testing had to be shared by all patients, and workers weren't sure if the devices were cleaned before and after each use.

Hepatitis B is a contagious virus that can cause severe liver problems, and it is typically transmitted by exposure to blood or body fluids. Symptoms include fever, extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting, dark urine and yellowish skin.

Glen Care officials have denied any responsibility for the hepatitis outbreak, suggesting it was caused by people coming in from outside or by residents sharing drinks or having unprotected sex. Medical technicians said they never told state investigators that they used the same glucose monitors on different patients.

The officials said in a response to the Division of Health Service Regulation report that they "strongly disagree" with the state's findings and have asked for a meeting with regulators. The officials called statements by some workers "a complete fabrication" and noted that the operations manager has since resigned and that at least one medical technician "no longer works in this facility."