Guilty Plea in Colorado Hepatitis Case

Kristen Diane Parker, 26, who is infected with <"">hepatitis C has agreed to a plea agreement on charges stemming from her alleged theft of fentanyl syringes. Parker allegedly stole the syringes for her own use, replacing them with saline after injecting herself and potentially infected countless others with the disease.

Hepatitis C is spread by contact with infected body fluids, especially blood. The disease attacks the liver, and can lead to cirrhosis or cancer of the liver. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C and the incurable disease can be fatal. Hepatitis C is considered the leading cause of liver transplants.

Although Parker pleaded not guilty to the indictment of 42 counts, she did acknowledge guilt on ten counts: Five of tampering with a consumer product and five of obtaining a controlled substance by deceit or subterfuge, said the Associated Press (AP).

Parker was indicted on July 23 on 42 counts by a federal grand jury, 21 counts of product tampering and 21 counts of obtaining a controlled substance by deceit, reported the Denver Post previously. These charges, said the Denver Post, only related to Parker’s alleged activities at Rose Medical Center, one of several facilities in which Parker worked. Parker was also charged with three criminal counts connected to stealing Fentanyl, the Denver Post noted. The Denver Post reported that additional charges could be made in future indictments and that, if convicted, Parker—who was jailed without bond—could have faced life in prison. The original 21 counts were later reduced to 19 counts each because prosecutors were looking to focus on the 19 cases that are “easiest to prove,” said the Denver Post.

In Colorado, Parker worked at Rose Medical Center from October 21 to April 13 and at Audubon Surgery Center from May 4 until June 29. Parker also worked at Christus St. John Hospital outside Houston, Texas between May 2005 and October 2006, the AP previously reported, and at Northern Westchester Hospital in New York’s Mount Kisco between October 8, 2007, and February 28, 2008. Investigations are ongoing in all three states.

Fentanyl is a narcotic pain medication used for surgical patients and, as a result of swapping saline for the surgical pain medication, patients who were supposed to receive fentanyl, clearly were not administered their prescribed medication, noted BizJournals in an earlier piece.

As part of today’s plea agreement, prosecutors dropped the remaining charges and Parker agreed to a 20-year prison term, said the AP. Parker is linked to some 16 incidences in which patients treated at Rose were infected with hepatitis C; upwards of 6,000 others have been potentially exposed to the incurable blood borne pathogen. Also, one patient from Audubon may also be linked to Parker, said the AP.

In August we reported that five of over 1,200 former surgical patients at Northern Westchester Hospital in New York have also tested positive for the hepatitis C virus. Three apparently contracted the disease prior to Parker’s employment at the facility. A former patient has filed suit against the hospital, claiming he contracted the disease from Parker. The plaintiff underwent outpatient ankle surgery at Northern Westchester in 2007.

Parker was jailed without bond and now awaits formal sentencing, which is scheduled for December 11.

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