Employee Allegedly Stole Medication

By Tim Sullivan Hoya Staff Writer

Two groups of attorneys representing nearly 600 former patients have filed a $1.8 billion negligence lawsuit against the Georgetown University Medical Center after an employee allegedly exposed the patients to disease while stealing their painkilling medicine.

Jeffrey L. Royal was fired by the university on Feb. 2 for allegedly using contaminated needles to tamper with the medicine used to treat patients under his care as a technician in the intervention radiology department.

Med Center spokesman Paul Donovan would not comment on the pending litigation.

Joseph Cammarata (SFS ’80), who represents one of the groups filing suit, said the lawsuit charges the Med Center with five counts: negligent hiring and supervision, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and assault and battery.

“We want to seek redress for the harm and the emotional trauma suffered by these innocent victims of the hospital,” said Cammarata. “[The patients] were in the hospital expecting that they would be cared for … and instead it’s the hospital’s actions which compromised the health and well-being of these already infirmed patients.”

Cammarata declined to release the names of his clients, saying that it could do more damage to them if people knew they were potentially exposed to a disease.

Jon D. Pels, who represents the other group of patients along with Keith W. Donahoe, said the crux of the case is in the Med Center’s hiring and supervision practices. “They should have performed a specific background check,” said Pels, who added, “a drug screening check is appropriate.” Pels also said that the American Hospital Association recommends such background and drug checks for employees with direct patient contact.

John Buckley, the attorney representing the university, did not return two phone calls made to his office.

Donovan said that Executive Vice President for Health Sciences Sam Wiesel has appointed a commission to consider the possibility of instituting drug testing for potential employees.

The Med Center’s supervision of Royal was lax according to Pels. “How a low-level technician can get to 600 people is beyond us,” Pels said.

According to the attorneys, each of the 600 complainants is asking for $3 million in damages, $2 million for compensatory damages and $1 million for punitive damages.

“[The patients] are faced with a disease for which there is no cure,” said Cammarata. “It’s a most unfortunate situation, which, if handled properly, would have been avoided.”

Carolyn Datlow Jousse, one of Pels’ clients, suffered excruciating pain because she did not receive the proper dosage of painkillers following a surgical procedure to burn a tumor off of her spine, Pels said. “She’d been through 11 surgeries … and was in so much pain that she was praying for God to either help her or kill her.” He said that doctors refused to give her additional pain medication and told her to stop screaming. “It was akin to a torture chamber,” said Pels.

Cammarata said the case may also involve investigation into Royal’s previous employment history. According to Cammarata, Royal may have been involved in similar behavior at two other area hospitals, Washington Adventist Hospital in Rockville and Suburban Hospital in Bethesda.

Robert Jepson, spokesperson for Washington Adventist Hospital, said that following the news of Royal’s dismissal from Georgetown, Washington Adventist, with the state of Maryland and the Centers for Disease Control, conducted a “very thorough investigation and found no evidence of any harm to patients” during Royal’s employment at the hospital. Royal worked at Washington Adventist from March through September of 1998. The results of the investigation, Jepson said, “would rule out any evidence of foul play.”

Representatives from Suburban Hospital were not available for comment.

When asked if the university was aware of the allegations of Royal’s similar prior criminal behavior at other hospitals, Donovan said he would “have to look into that.”

According to Cammarata, Buckley has filed a motion to have the two cases considered as one litigation. If that were to occur, the suit would represent all of the patients the Med Center has identified as affected by Royal. Cammarata said that the next move in the case will come on or before April 5, which is the deadline for the Med Center to respond to the suit.

Donovan declined to discuss whether or not the university is covered by insurance. Cammarata said that the university is “self-insured” and that “no one is going to be closing down.”

Donovan also said that the lawsuit does not affect the recent partnership deal with MedStar Health Systems, whereby the university and MedStar would jointly run the hospital. He also said that MedStar is not liable for any of the potential damages sought in the suit.

Allegedly, Royal, with the help of possibly contaminated needles, removed doses of the painkillers fentanyl and Versed from IV treatments of patients for his own use. Immediately following Royal’s dismissal, the Med Center began informing 504 people that they were potentially put at risk by Royal. Royal has since tested negative for HIV and Hepatitis B and C. Because of confidentiality concerns, Donovan did not disclose whether any patients affected by Royal’s actions have contracted diseases.

Royal has been arrested and arraigned by the Metropolitan Police Department on a felony charge of tampering with consumer products, a charge which carries a maximum 10-year prison term and $250,000 fine.

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