Patient claims HIV infection from Rose Cancer Center

SUMMIT — A cancer clinic doctor in south Mississippi who was already facing federal criminal charges for allegedly using old syringes and watered-down chemotherapy drugs is now facing a civil lawsuit that claims a patient contracted HIV from a dirty needle.

Dr. Meera Sachdeva, founder of Rose Cancer Center in Summit, has been held without bond since her arrest in August on charges of diluting drugs and billing Medicaid and Medicare for more chemotherapy than patients actually were given.

A former employee and a billing agent also have been charged in the federal investigation. All three pleaded not guilty.

Federal and state authorities have said old needles were used on multiple patients, but the lawsuit appears to be the first public allegation filed in court that someone who contracted HIV.

The Mississippi Health Department closed the Rose Cancer Center July 20 because of “unsafe infection control practices” and has tested hundreds of patients for HIV and other diseases because of concerns about dirty needles after 11 patients went to hospitals with the same bacterial infection.

Health Department spokeswoman Liz Sharlot said testing continues, but so far no patient has been determined to have contracted viral diseases such as HIV or hepatitis from Rose Cancer Center. She said she had not seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on it.

The man named in the lawsuit died before the Health Department shut down the clinic.

The lawsuit claims James Ralph Patterson Sr. went to the clinic for treatment of his brain and lung cancer but ended up getting watered-down drugs and was infected with HIV by an old needle. Patterson died July 3 at the age of 61. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of Patterson’s son, and it’s is one of several suits filed in Pike County Circuit Court by Jackson attorneys John Giddens and Philip Thomas.

The lawsuit said the HIV weakened Patterson’s immune system. The lawsuit seeks $500,000 in actual damages and unspecified punitive damages.

“This is a disturbing case of a trusted physician sacrificing her patients’ lives in order to enrich herself. We expect a jury to hold Dr. Sachdeva and Rose Cancer liable and assess substantial damages against them,” Giddens said. “We believe that this case is particularly appropriate for an award of punitive damages due to the unconscionable fraud committed by Dr. Sachdeva. Although Mississippi law currently limits the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded, the limits do not apply when the defendant has been convicted of a felony for the conduct at issue in the lawsuit. We expect Dr. Sachdeva to be convicted before the trial of Mr. Patterson’s case.”

Sachdeva, 50, has been held without bond because authorities say she is a flight risk.

Sachdeva is a naturalized U.S. citizen from India. Prosecutors says she often traveled overseas and has considerable assets, including bank accounts in her native country, despite the seizure of about $6 million.

Sachdeva established the clinic in south Mississippi in 2005 and billed Medicaid and Medicare for about $15.1 million during the alleged scheme. Prosecutors say Sachdeva gave patients less chemotherapy or cheaper drugs than they were told, while billing Medicaid and Medicare for more. Prosecutors also say the clinic billed for new syringes for each patient even though it reused some on multiple people.

Court records include a chart that lists the amounts of drugs the clinic allegedly purchased from pharmaceutical companies and compares those to the quantities that were billed to Medicaid and Medicare. The widest discrepancy is for the drug Erbitux. The clinic billed for 142,200 milligrams, even though it only had only purchased 45,100 milligrams, court records said.

The clinic’s former office manager, Brittany McCoskey, 24, of Monticello, and a former billing agent, Monica Weeks, 43, of Madison, have pleaded not guilty. They’re both free on bond.

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