ManorCare served complaint, has 21 days to respond

Attorneys representing two plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit mailed their complaint to ManorCare Health Services this week. ManorCare has 21 days from receipt of the documents to file a response.

The Minot nursing home is being sued by some of its residents in one of the largest hepatitis C outbreaks in U.S. history. At least 44 patients ranging in age from 38 to 100 have been diagnosed so far.

The lawsuit was filed in Bismarck on April 2.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver that recipients sometimes fully recover from, according to the lawsuit’s complaint, but 55 to 85 percent of those infected will carry the virus throughout their life and remain contagious, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The North Dakota Department of Health announced in August 2013 that it was investigating the outbreak, after first discovering three patients two women and one man all over the age of 60 who had been infected with the disease as early as July 2013.

On Dec. 27, the department announced it still did not fully understand how transmission occurred.

The investigation had concluded that transmission likely occurred either in podiatry and phlebotomy services or nail care serves at the facility, with all the victims either current or former residents from the years 2011 through 2013, according to the complaint.

“The North Dakota Department of Health released their preliminary findings on the cluster of Hepatitis C virus in the Minot community. The DoH’s findings have not been able to identify the specific actions that caused the spread of the disease but have identified some possible factors,” said a prepared statement provided by ManorCare regarding the case. “The Department of Health has worked with area health care providers, including ManorCare Health Services – Minot, to work with them on helping to isolate the cluster and reduce the possible modes of transmissions.”

The lawsuit claims repeatedly that the class representatives and the other 44 affected people did not participate in any activities that might put them at risk of contracting the blood-borne virus and that it was through the “negligence” of ManorCare staff that it was transmitted.

It’s a long way off before a total number of plaintiffs will be known since people can continue to sign on even after a settlement is reached, according to Mike Miller of the Fargo law firm Solberg Stewart Miller, the firm representing the plaintiffs along with the Minneapolis law firm Zimmerman Reed, P.L.L.P.

There are just two class representatives in the lawsuit so far, Lilas Guttormson, 84, and John Fenner, 78, who were both infected with hepatitis C while residents and patients of ManorCare.

The complaint outlines the history of contraction for the two class representatives.

Guttormson, who became a resident of the facility on Oct. 29, 2008, showed symptoms of the virus in August 2013, described as “ill, not eating, failing to respond to typical stimuli, and very lethargic.” A test conducted on Sept. 9, 2013, confirmed she had been infected. An additional test on Oct. 17, 2013, conducted by the North Dakota Department of Health confirmed the infection.

Fenner became a resident on Aug. 24, 2010. He informed his daughter that the facility took a blood sample from him in July 2013, and did not inform him why they were doing so. Two months later, in September, the daughter received a letter from the facility and the Department of Health stating that Fenner had been infected.

ManorCare writes in their statement that they have “been very cooperative and proactive in making sure that we are following our infection control process to proactively curb and prevent the spread of any infection, bacteria or virus. We continue to work with the local health authorities to protect our residents and employees. The center has been testing new admissions and current residents and no further conversions have occurred.”

It will still be months before a judge will rule whether the case will go forward as a class action lawsuit or whether it will go forward as separate lawsuits from each person who would like to make a claim for damages. The complaint does demand a jury trial.