Nurse accused of spreading hepatitis C just 'a scapegoat,' her lawyer says

TACOMA, Wash. – Police arrested the MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital nurse accused of stealing drugs and possibly infecting two patients with hepatitis C.

The woman was arrested at the Canadian border on a pre-planned trip Thursday night and police say she could be facing two counts of second-degree assault.

But the nurse’s attorney tells Q13 News that health officials can’t prove she was the one who infected two patients that sparked the hospital to urge thousands more to get tested.

“They need to have a scapegoat,” said attorney Bryan Hershman, “that’s what they need.”

Hershman says MultiCare’s hospital in Puyallup and health officials are looking to pin the blame of a hepatitis C scare on his client.

“They can draw no connection to my client, none -- and they’ve tried,” he said. “So what they know is, they’re facing civil litigation and they’ve got to find a scapegoat. What better person than someone who’s got some narcotics issues, right?”

Friday morning Puyallup police said Canadian and American law enforcement agencies arrested the nurse at the border Thursday night.

“I think that, without her travel plans, we would have liked to have developed some more evidence, but we were working under a time crunch with her leaving the country,” said Puyallup Police Department spokesperson Ryan Portman.

While health officials say the two patients who tested positive for hepatitis C are linked by the virus’ DNA, they can’t yet say the same for the nurse.

“Is it ever possible, do you think, to determine whether or not this nurse spread this particular strain or whether or not she contracted it from these two patients?” Q13 News reporter Steve Kiggins asked health officials during a Friday morning press conference.

“That’s a good question,” replied Nigel Turner from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “That’s something we would be asking in our investigation, keeping our eyes open for all possibilities.”

MultiCare believes the nurse was stealing drugs but does not know how the virus had spread to two patients.

On Monday, the hospital said it sent letters to more than 2,500 patients who may have had contact with the nurse inside the emergency room and urged them to get tested for hepatitis C and B and HIV.

“I got a call yesterday and they were able to tell me right away that I was negative after all three tests,” said Erin Sataloff from Puyallup.

Sataloff says she received a letter from MultiCare but she still has more questions about how the virus spread.

“They don’t understand the mechanism by which this transpired, and there’s no way unless they caught it on camera or unless she admitted to it,” she said.

The nurse’s attorney insists she is being blamed for something she couldn’t have done even if she may have abused drugs.

“In the Pierce County Jail is a young lady, in a suicide smock, who is an outstanding nurse, a committed professional, who is experiencing psychological trauma because of the commitment she has to her job -- saving lives,” said Hershman.

Q13 News has not identified the nurse by name because she has not yet been officially charged with a crime.

Meanwhile, hospital officials are still urging all of the nearly 2,600 people who should have received letters to get tested.