Patients of defunct cancer clinic test negative for viral blood infections

by Associated Press

Published: April 5,2012

Tags: Cancer, chemotherapy, clinics, courts, doctors, fraud, health, health care, infections, judges, judicial, judiciary, medical, medicine, physicians

SUMMIT — Mississippi health officials say none of the nearly 300 cancer patients they tested from a defunct clinic have contracted viral blood infections such as HIV because of care at the facility, which is suspected of diluting chemotherapy drugs and using old needles.

The Mississippi Health Department closed Rose Cancer Center in Summit in July because of “unsafe infection control practices” after 11 patients were hospitalized with the same bacterial infection.

Health Department spokeswoman Liz Sharlot told The Associated Press that the department sent out two rounds of letters to former patients advising them they could come in for tests. She said none of the patients tested had blood-borne viral infections related to the clinic’s care.

Sharlot said the last tests were done in February, but the department would test additional patients if they ask for a screening.

A lawsuit claims at least one patient died from HIV around the time the clinic was closed.

The clinic’s founder, Dr. Meera Sachdeva, and two others have been indicted on federal charges accusing them of participating in multi-million-dollar fraud that included using old needles and diluting chemotherapy medicine.

Sachdeva, Brittany McCoskey and Monica Weeks are charged with offenses including conspiracy, fraud and witness tampering. They have pleaded not guilty.

Federal prosecutors said in a recent court filing that more charges are likely.

Authorities say the clinic made millions of dollars while diluting drugs and billing Medicaid, Medicare and insurance companies for more chemotherapy that patients received. The clinic also used old syringes on multiple patients while billing for new ones, court records said.

Sachdeva established the clinic in south Mississippi in 2005 and billed Medicaid and Medicare for about $15.1 million during the alleged scheme. She has been held without bond since August because authorities consider her a flight risk.

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

McCoskey and Weeks are free on bond. Prosecutors say Weeks did billing for the clinic. McCoskey was a receptionist and later the office manager, prosecutors have said.

One of several lawsuits related to the clinic claims James Ralph Patterson Sr. went there 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 is one of several suits filed in Pike County.

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