A nurse fired from McKay-Dee Hospital and blamed for a 2015 hepatitis C outbreak is facing 16 counts of stealing and tampering with narcotics and causing at least 7 people to become infected with the potentially life-threatening disease.
Elet Neilson, 50, was indicted by a Salt Lake City federal grand jury in documents filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court. She faces eight counts of tampering with a consumer product and 8 counts of fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance.
McKay-Dee and Davis Hospital alerted 7,200 former patients of possible hepatitis C exposure after Neilson’s alleged activities came to light in October 2015.
Neilson worked at Davis Hospital in Layton before moving to McKay-Dee in Ogden.
More than 3,700 people came forward for blood tests, and the Utah Department of Health said 16 positive cases of hepatitis C 2b were identified.
The state investigation, launched in September 2015, determined Neilson and a McKay-Dee patient treated in the emergency room were both infected with the same hepatitis C genotype, meaning the two infections could be related.
Fifteen cases were found at McKay-Dee and one at Davis Hospital.
The federal indictment says between July 2013 and November 2014, at least 7 patients treated in the McKay-Dee emergency room were given intravenous opioid pain medications handled by Neilson before or during their administration. It says the patients were infected with not only the same hepatitis C genotype as Neilson, but also the same sub-genotype.
Investigators will never know conclusively whether the patient or Neilson was infected first, the Health Department investigation coordinator, Dr. Angela Dunn said at a press conference April 4, 2016.
The first patient and Neilson tested positive within a year of one another, leading investigators to believe an exposure may have happened within a three-month window when they likely crossed paths at McKay-Dee.
Dunn said the connection was made after Neilson came in for a state-mandated blood test related to the drug infractions in summer 2015. Dunn said the first patient had received injections at McKay-Dee, which are a primary cause of infections involving the blood-borne pathogen.
After she was fired, but before the hepatitis outbreak was known, Neilson pleaded guilty in 2nd District Court to a reduced charge of attempted possession or use of a controlled substance. She was accused of diverting doses of Dilaudid and morphine at McKay-Dee. On May 5, 2015, she was sentenced to two years of probation.
Records at the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing showed Neilson surrendered her nursing license on Nov. 5, 2015, and was prohibited from reapplying for licensure for five years.
McKay-Dee spokesman Chris Dallin on Thursday issued a prepared statement in reaction to the federal indictment. It said, in part, “In collaboration with the Utah Department of Health, the hospital has made every effort to alert patients who were impacted by the conduct alleged in the indictment. Due to privacy concerns we are unable to comment on the allegations.”
Court records say a summons to appear in court Aug. 16 was issued Wednesday to Neilson.
Efforts to reach Neilson were not immediately successful. She does not yet have an attorney listed in federal documents.
(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported an incorrect total of charges against Neilson. The Standard-Examiner regrets the error.)