TB Lawsuit Claims DHEC Employees Tried To Make Money From Outbre - WSPA.com

TB Lawsuit Claims DHEC Employees "Intentionally Ignored" Outbreak

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State health officials say the state of South Carolina is dealing with a tuberculosis outbreak. State health officials say the state of South Carolina is dealing with a tuberculosis outbreak.
Testing came after state health officials say someone at Ninety Six Primary School tested positive for the dangerous bacteria. Testing came after state health officials say someone at Ninety Six Primary School tested positive for the dangerous bacteria.
DHEC officials said that the "damage was done" before they even heard about the first case that is thought to have started the outbreak in March. DHEC officials said that the "damage was done" before they even heard about the first case that is thought to have started the outbreak in March.

TB Testing Totals From DHEC (6/18/2013)

  • Positive TB skin test results = 73 (20 non-students, 53 students)
  • Abnormal chest X-ray readings = 12 (2 non-students, 10 students)


Amended TB Lawsuit Claims DHEC Employees Tried To Make Money Off Outbreak
Update: July 3, 2013

The nurses fired after an Upstate tuberculosis outbreak say their bosses at the state health agency tried to profit from the disease.

One of the new complaints filed Wednesday morning states a former employee at Ninety Six Primary School in Greenwood County says two S. C. Department of Health and Environmental Control employees formed a new consulting company called S&T TB Consulting, LLC.

We checked with the Secretary of State's office and found S&T TB Consulting was formed on May 17. That's two weeks before students at the school were tested for the disease, and well after nurses there say they warned the central office of the dangerous outbreak.

The registered agent for S&T TB Consulting, Shea Rabley, was working as program manager for the DHEC TB control division at the time.

"There was a direct intentional obstruction of this (investigation)," said plaintiffs attorney John Reckenbeil.

"One has to conclude that it was intentionally done for a purpose," he said.

We're working to bring you even more information on this case. Keep checking back for the latest updates throughout the day and tune in tonight for a complete report.

2 New Lawsuits Filed After DHEC Firings in TB Outbreak
June 27, 2013

Two new lawsuits have been filed against the state's health agency after it terminated several employees over the handling of a tuberculosis outbreak at a Greenwood County school.

Two nurses filed the suites saying the S. C. Department of Health and Environmental Control wrongfully terminated them, and violated the whistleblower law.

A similar lawsuit was filed earlier this month.

The latest suites were filed Thursday by Latrinia Richard and Anne Ashley.  Richard was the Site Supervisor for the Greenwood County Health Department.  Ashley was the Case Manager for Abbeville and McCormick counties.

The suits allege that despite being warned, DHEC failed to respond to requests, and made the decision not to test students at Ninety Six Primary School until around two months after being informed of the initial investigation results.
 
"They were the ones telling Columbia that there was a problem and in order to silence them, in order to put a spin on it, that's why they were fired," the plaintiffs' attorney John Reckenbeil said.
The suits also claim the "index" patient had an open-flow air vent in his working space that joined a classroom.  Eight of the 12 individuals from the work site tested positive for TB, according to the lawsuit.
 
The lawsuits also claim a violation of the state whistleblower protection act.
 
"That's the very essence of a whistleblower in saying there is a problem, come do something about it and then the government doesn't do anything about it and then in the end they're silenced by being terminated," Reckenbeil said.

Last week, another former DHEC employee who was fired during case filed a similar lawsuit.

Malinda Martin, along with others lost her job on May 30 after the agency's director said they weren't moving fast enough in handling the outbreak.

Martin says she was told by DHEC not to test students, then was later fired for not testing them.
 
Former DHEC Employee Files Wrongful Termination Suit In TB Outbreak
June 19, 2013

A wrongful termination lawsuit has been filed against South Carolina's health agency concerning the handling of an Upstate tuberculosis outbreak.

A former Department of Health and Environmental Control employee says she was told by the agency not to test students, then was later fired for not testing them.

Malinda Martin, a registered nurse who lives in Spartanburg County, filed the lawsuit Tuesday claiming she was unfairly terminated in late May.  Martin was the region's tuberculosis program manager and worked for DHEC for more than two decades.

Martin lost her job along with others on May 30 after the agency's director said they weren't moving fast enough in the handling of TB case that originated at Ninety Six Primary School in Greenwood County.  DHEC Director Catherine Templeton said others would face disciplinary action.

So far, at least 73 individuals have tested positive for having been in contact with the bacteria.  Twelve have had abnormal chest x-rays indicating a contagious form of TB.

You can read more about the wrongful termination lawsuit at GoUpstate.com.

Judge Lifts Restraining Order But Acknowledges Fear In Community
June 17, 2013

A judge let a restraining order against the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control expire.  The order forced the agency to open the Greenwood County Health Department on weekends.

The mother of a young child with tuberculosis asked for the order because she feared her son wouldn't be able to get treatment for his illness with the department closed on weekends.

The state said the child was supposed to get medicine five days a week but now that period of treatment is over and there is no need to remain open on weekends.

Ninety Six School District To Pay For Student And Staff TB Testing
June 13, 2013

Mark Petersen, Ninety Six School District Superintendent confirmed to 7 On Your Side the district will pay for the cost to provide a TB skin test to any student and staff member that wishes to be tested. 

Petersen said, "It has come to my attention that some students and staff members who believe that they could have been exposed to tuberculosis at Ninety Six Primary School have not been able to be tested by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. In an effort to ensure that all of our students and staff members who wish to be tested are able to access the proper testing, the District has contracted with Accurate Diagnostics to provide TB skin tests, free of charge. While the District is unable to facilitate and/or pay for any recommended follow-up testing and treatment, I believe that this initial testing will help alleviate some of our community's concerns".
  
Petersen says those who wish to be tested need to go to the District Office, 605 Johnston Road, Ninety Six, SC 29666 and pick up a form that will authorize them to receive testing from Accurate Diagnostics.  The form will be signed and then the form must be taken along with a picture ID to Accurate Diagnostics, located at 125 Capital Street in Greenwood to receive the TB skin testing. Accurate Diagnostics will be responsible for administering and reading the tests and for advising individuals of the results of those tests.
  
The school district has contracted with Ecolabs to sanitize all schools including the district office.  Petersen says that DHEC did not recommend this but they felt it was necessary to ensure peace of mind in the community and that staff and students return in the fall to a clean and healthy environment.

Another Patient Added To List Of Those In Contact With TB
June 12, 2013

Since Tuesday's report from state health officials, results show another person has tested positive for having been in contact with tuberculosis in an Upstate outbreak that they say 

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control now says 74 people have been exposed to the germ in Greenwood County.

Testing came after DHEC says someone at Ninety Six Primary School tested positive for the dangerous bacteria.

"There are still only two infectious people identified thus far in the community, and both are affiliated with the school," Wednesday's news release states.

Several lawsuits have been filed in connection with the outbreak.  They accuse DHEC of negligence in handling the case.  Four suites also add Greenwood School District 52 as a defendant.

More Test Positive In Upstate TB Outbreak
June 11, 2013

State health officials released updated numbers of those who have tested positive for TB in an Upstate outbreak.

According to a release from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, 73 individuals, including 55 students and 18 non-students, have been exposed to the disease.

Twelve others had abnormal chest x-rays.  Two of those are non-students, while 10 were children who attended Greenwood County schools.

The number of non-students who tested positive increased sharply with the latest DHEC report, which was released Tuesday.

The Department of Health and Environmental control made it clear it believed the tuberculosis outbreak did not spread outside the school walls.

"If you have not set foot in the Ninety Six Primary School this school year you are not at risk of being affected by this tuberculosis outbreak," Department of Health And Environmental Control Director Catherine Templeton said.

According to TB testing results at an Upstate lab, that's not true.

Accurate Diagnostics in Greenwood tells us this is a document showing one of five positive TB skin tests from people the lab tells us never stepped foot in the primary school.

Now it's important to mention those positive results still have to be confirmed by a doctor.

"The problem is right now who knows if you've been exposed so that's the big issue so I think if you are concerned you should get tested," Dr. Jed Graham with Physicians Care in Greenwood said.

Dr. Graham tells us since the initial person with contagious TB was uncooperative and refused to stay home claims the TB was contained to the school may not be accurate.

Which has parents questioning how state health officials handled the outbreak.

"It's hard to trust what they say anymore I don't know if I can believe any of the numbers they put out there," parent Anna Campbell said.

DHEC wouldn't answer our questions about whether TB spread outside the school.

But numbers from the agency show in the past 4 days 10 more people came back with positive TB skin tests.

5 Lawsuits Filed In Upstate TB Case
June 10, 2013

At least five lawsuits accusing the Department of Health and Environmental Control of negligence in handling the tuberculosis outbreak have been filed in Greenwood County.  Four also add Greenwood School District 52 as a defendant.

Greenwood attorney Jon Newlon filed a class action suit on behalf of several children infected at Ninety Six Primary school.  He said he wants to force the state agency to do the job it's tasked to do.

"Its not about making money. It's about making sure that DHEC, like other governmental agencies, do what they're supposed to do in a timely manner because that's their job," Newlon said.

A Hampton attorney, Lee Cope said his primary concern in three lawsuits filed Friday is to make sure the state health agency is protecting the infected.

A judge approved his motion for a temporary restraining order Friday that forced DHEC to open the Greenwood County Health Department to open on Saturday and Sunday so that infected students could continue to get medication as prescribed.

All five lawsuits demanded a jury trial.

School Officials: District Had Some Idea About Outbreak
June 7, 2013

School officials in Greenwood County say the district had some idea about what has now turned into a tuberculosis outbreak in the Upstate.

So far, 63 people in Greenwood County have tested positive for contact with TB in the outbreak that originated at Ninety Six Primary School.  Eleven of those had abnormal chest x-rays.

School board chairman Sam Corley and member Paul Cobb said Friday that the board had some "suspicion" of an infectious disease as early as late March, but they hinted that DHEC kept them quiet.

DHEC spokesman Mark Plowden said that's not true and that the agency never gave the district a directive to remain silent on the issue.

In fact, agency director Catherine Templeton said she doesn't know how the school board (specifically the superintendent) could act like they didn't know what was going on, especially considering DHEC began testing people in March.

DHEC officials said Friday that the "damage was done" before they even heard about the first case that is thought to have started the outbreak in March.

Last week, Ninety Six Primary School in Greenwood County started testing students for TB. Those results showed dozens of people tested positive for the bacteria.

Tests also confirm that at least two people have a contagious form of the illness.

Index TB Patient Detained
June 6, 2013

The "index patient" in the Upstate tuberculosis outbreak has been detained as part of an Emergency Public Health Order by state health officials.

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control officials say that individual has not been cooperative.

That patient has been taken to a secure medical facility where they will be confined for 30 days, or until they are no longer infectious.

Also Thursday, a class action lawsuit was filed concerning the handling of outbreak.

Attorney Billy Garrett says he filled the suit after seeing reports from 7 On Your Side.

He tells Community Watchdog reporter Gordon Dill more than 20 people have signed on to the suit against the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and District 50 Schools in Greenwood County.

Garrett says one of the clients has cancer and is on chemotherapy.  That individual is reacting poorly to the tuberculosis drug treatment, he adds.  Two other clients are children with active tuberculosis.

So far, DHEC says 63 people have tested positive for contact with TB.  Eleven of those had abnormal chest x-rays.

Tune in tonight on 7 On Your Side, or keep checking back to WSPA.com for the very latest on this developing story.

2nd Contagious TB Case Confirmed
June 5, 2013

A second contagious case of tuberculosis has been confirmed in Greenwood County as the state deals with an outbreak.

State health officials announced Wednesday evening that the new case was found in an adult male employee at Ninety Six Primary School.  A chest x-ray confirmed the active case.

The patient is now under the care of a physician and has started treatment.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says officials are requiring that the individual remain in their home.  They are working to find anyone who has been in contact with the patient.

Also, health officials announced that they are now offering free tuberculosis tests to anyone who has spent time in any buildings on the school's campus.

If you have not been contacted by DHEC, but still have concerns, you are asked to see your primary care provider.  If you don't have one, call the Greenwood County Health Department at (864) 942-3600.  There will be a charge for these tests.

So far, DHEC says 62 people, 10 staff members and 52 students, have tested positive for coming in contact with the germ.  Ten of those cases had abnormal chest x-rays.

We've put together some resources to help you better understand tuberculosis.  Check the links to the left.

Upstate Dealing With TB Outbreak
June 4, 2013

State health officials say the state of South Carolina is dealing with a tuberculosis outbreak.

Fifty eight people have tested positive for exposure to tuberculosis at Ninety Six Primary School in Greenwood County.

State Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Templeton tells 7 On Your Side eight of those students have the disease.  However, they are not contagious according to an infectious disease specialist.  Those eight cases were confirmed through an x-ray.

DHEC says the students who need treatment will be given three medications for 6 months.  The others who have been exposed will be given one medication for 9 months.

Templeton says the original person who was infected has an unusually contagious form of TB.  That person has not been cooperative with investigators, she explains to Community Watchdog reporter Gordon Dill.

The infectious disease specialist says he doesn't think there are any more carriers who have the infectious form of the disease, but it's uncertain because they aren't sure who else was in contact with the original carrier.

DHEC says that individual is the first ever in South Carolina to be placed under a public health order due to the lack of cooperation.

DHEC employees in the Greenwood County office lost their jobs last week.  Templeton says they were fired because they weren't moving fast enough in the handling of this case.

We've put together some resources to help you better understand tuberculosis.  Check the links to the left.

DHEC: 57 Test Positive For Exposure To TB
June 3, 2013 at 8:11 p.m.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control now says that 57 individuals have tested positive for exposure tuberculosis at Ninety Six Primary School in Greenwood County District 52. 

In a news release, DHEC reported that 463 tests were given and those testing positive were instructed to have a chest x-ray.  DHEC medical staff will review the x-rays and provide medication if deemed necessary.   

Health officials stress that a positive TB skin test does not mean that the person has the TB disease and that a positive result only means that a person has been infected with the germ that causes the disease.  

DHEC says approximately 5 to 10 percent of individuals infected with the germ ever develop the disease.

Parents: Children Test Postitive For TB Exposure
June 3, 2013 at 6:15 p.m.

Parents of students at Ninety Six Primary School in Greenwood County District 52 say their children have tested positive for tuberculosis.

The parents of four students, ages 4, 6, and 8, all tell 7 On Your Side their children received positive results following tests that were taken Friday.  The Department of Health and Environmental Control has not confirmed any of these cases at this time.

The tests came after state health officials say someone at the school tested positive for the dangerous bacteria earlier in May.

Not everyone who has the bacteria that causes tuberculosis becomes sick. The bacteria are spread through the air and often attack the lungs, causing a bad cough in those who get infected. The disease can be fatal if not treated.

Some DHEC employees are out of a job concerning the handling the case.

Monday afternoon a second district, Greenwood 50, notified all parents of possible contact with someone infected with TB.

According to a district spokesman, students at Mathews Elementary and Woodfields Elementary may have come into contact with someone infected with the germ that causes TB.

Parents at those two schools got letters in the mail in addition to a phone call from the district.

DHEC Employees Fired For Handing Of TB Case
May 30, 2013

Some employees with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control are out of a job after the handling of a tuberculosis case in Greenwood County.

Earlier, 7 On Your Side told you students at Ninety Six Primary School in Greenwood County will be tested Friday to see if they've been exposed to the dangerous bacteria.

That came after state health officials say someone at the school tested positive for the illness.

Now, an official with DHEC says the staff members originally responsible for handing that case are no longer with the agency and others will face disciplinary action.

A forum was held Wednesday night for concerned parents.  A hotline has also been set up.

"There is a great deal of anxiety in this community regarding the possible exposure of school children and others to the tuberculosis germ," said DHEC Director Catherine Templeton.  "This community needs to know that their health department is here to help them. We are committed to protecting them, and have taken additional actions to ensure their health and safety."  

Students will be tested beginning Friday morning, according to the agency.

You can find more information about this case on DHEC's website.

TB Confirmed At Upstate School
May 28, 2013

Students at a Greenwood County school are being offered a free tuberculosis test after it was determined that someone at the school had been exposed to the bacteria that cause the illness.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said Tuesday federal privacy laws won't let it release the name of the school, the person who tested positive or their relationship to children.

Health officials say they have contacted parents of students that might have come in contact with the person to offer them the skin test.

Not everyone who has the bacteria that causes tuberculosis becomes sick. The bacteria are spread through the air and often attack the lungs, causing a bad cough in those who get infected. The disease can be fatal if not treated.

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