LAND O’ LAKES, Fla. (WFLA) — A lawsuit filed in Florida this week claims a nurse at a Tampa Bay area jail contaminated insulin with a used needle and exposed hundreds of diabetic inmates to HIV.
The class action complaint was filed Tuesday by the Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise law firm. It names Wellpath, a for-profit contractor that provides health care to correctional facilities, as well as two registered nurses listed as defendants. The suit was filed on behalf of several current and former inmates at the Land O’ Lakes detention center, including five current inmates who are diabetic.
According to the law firm, attorneys found out earlier this month that a Wellpath nurse at the Pasco County jail gave an insulin injection to an HIV-positive diabetic patient, then put the used needle back in a multi-dose vial of insulin to get more. Other inmates were then given injections of insulin from the contaminated vial, the lawsuit claims.
When the nurse was confronted about the “reckless practice,” the law firm says she acknowledged using the method to give insulin to inmates and said she had done so the entire time she was employed. The law firm says she’s believed to have worked at the jail since January 2021.
Attorneys say Wellpath tested some inmates for HIV and provided prophylactic medications but did not inform the inmates of their potential exposure or get informed consent for the testing and medication.
The law firm that filed the suit says the nurse’s practice likely exposed diabetic inmates to HIV, as well as other bloodborne diseases like hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
“Individuals should never be exposed to deadly diseases by their medical providers’ reckless and unhygienic practices,” attorney Ashlie Case Sletvold said in a statement. “By subjecting incarcerated people to the risk of HIV and other bloodborne illnesses, Wellpath violated its duties under the Constitution. This class action is an important step toward holding Wellpath accountable.”
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office released a statement to 8 On Your Side saying it is aware of the complaint and has been working with Wellpath to investigate.
“It is our understanding that Wellpath took immediate corrective action upon being notified of a possible issue with insulin dispensation, and CDC exposure guidelines were followed as safety precautions,” the statement said. “At this point, no adverse reactions have been reported by any affected individuals. We are taking the reported complaint very seriously, and will continue to work with Wellpath regarding investigation of this matter and steps to ensure a situation like this does not happen in the future.”
Case Sletvold said the law firm is glad the sheriff’s office is taking the situation seriously – but they want more to be done.
“It’s great to hear that Sheriff Nocco is taking the insulin contamination by a Wellpath employee seriously, but the potential exposure doesn’t stop with current inmates of the Land O’Lakes Detention Center,” she said. “Not only do current and former diabetic inmates need to be notified, tested, and treated, but so do their loved ones and sexual partners.”
The firm wants Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and the Pasco County prosecutor’s office to investigate.
“It’s shocking that the Land O’Lakes Detention Center could allow inmates’ lives to be put at risk, but it’s even worse that none of the victims were informed so that they could seek testing or take steps to protect their families,” attorney Kevin Conway said. “While Wellpath may be directly responsible for putting these inmates at risk, it’s the system of private for-profit correctional contracting that allowed this type of recklessness to take place.”