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Nurse accused of spreading hepatitis C at military hospital

Times Staff Writer

A nurse anesthetist at a Texas military hospital may have infected up to 15 patients with a potentially fatal strain of hepatitis C by stealing drugs meant for his patients and “knowingly” passing on his own infection, according to civil and criminal court filings and the report of a federal agency.

According to Daniel Henry, one of the alleged victims, Jon Dale Jones injected drugs meant for Henry into himself and then infected Henry with hepatitis by injecting him with the same needle.

In an indictment made public early this week, federal prosecutors in El Paso said Jones secretly and improperly obtained access to a powerful painkilling drug, fentanyl, earmarked for three patients about to undergo surgery at William Beaumont Army Medical Center and, as a result, infected those patients with hepatitis C, an infectious disease that can lead to liver failure and cancer. The indictment does not address the method of transmission.

The nine-count indictment charges Jones, 45, with assault “resulting in serious bodily injury” and with obtaining a controlled substance “by fraud, deception and subterfuge.”

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Records filed in a series of civil lawsuits and reviewed by The Times show that an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that an additional 12 patients were infected in the same way and by the same person. Federal officials later added another victim to the list, an infant who they said was apparently infected in utero, according to court filings. All were members of the military or among immediate family.

The indictment charges that Jones “obtained possession of keys from subordinate employees” to access the drugs, which were kept in locked containers and later administered to the victims.

Jones’ lawyer, James Darnell, said his client would plead not guilty to the charges. Darnell also said he had information showing that the CDC report was incorrect and that his client was not responsible for infecting all the patients cited.

Civil court documents identified another victim as Matthew Vane, a student at West Point and the son of Michael Vane, then-commanding general at Ft. Bliss, where Beaumont is located. The three victims in the federal indictment, identified only by their initials, were infected between Aug. 6 and Oct. 12, 2004.

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The indictment comes after a more than two-year investigation by the FBI.

According to the civil court records, Jones was sent to Beaumont in 2004, where he worked under two private contractors, Spectrum Healthcare Services of Tennessee and a joint venture of Columbia Healthcare and the Arora Group, both based in Maryland. The two entities are among the largest contractors providing medical professionals to the military healthcare system, receiving payments totaling more than $400 million over the last six years.

Jones was arraigned Monday in Miami. Records show he holds valid nursing licenses in Virginia, Hawaii, the District of Columbia and Florida, where officials said he has been working in an unnamed hospital. There is no record of Jones being cited or sanctioned by any of the state boards.

Tracy Young, vice president for Team Health, which owns Spectrum, said the certified nurse anesthetist worked only briefly as an independent contractor for a Spectrum subsidiary before he was tested for hepatitis.

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After his stint with Spectrum, records show, Jones remained at Beaumont and was engaged by Columbia-Arora, which took over the Beaumont contract on Oct. 1, 2004. Officials of the company did not respond to a request for comment. Columbia-Arora and Spectrum have denied any responsibility for the infections.

One of the alleged victims was Henry, who underwent surgery at Beaumont on Oct. 12, 2004.

Henry, 72, said in a telephone interview that he had gone to Beaumont for throat surgery.

Henry said that after the surgery Jones came in and gave him an injection.

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“I asked him what he was doing, and he said he had to replace the needle. He must have put the needle in his arm before he put it in mine,” Henry said.

About a week later, Henry said, he started turning orange and went back to his doctor.

“Sure enough, I had hepatitis,” he said, adding that the infection further complicated his other ailments, including diabetes and congestive heart failure.

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wally.roche@latimes.com


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