Patients affected by drug tampering at a New Jersey hospital are speaking out tonight after receiving letters in the mail that they may have been exposed to HIV or Hepatitis.
"I absolutely freaked out," Arlene Polmonari, who is among 213 patients notified by Shore Medical Center about the possible exposure, told NBC10's Ted Greenberg. "I was hysterical. I called my daughter crying, I said, 'You're not going to believe this letter I just received in the mail.'"
Officials at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point said they're investigating the possibility that patients who received IV morphine or hydromorphone medications at the hospital between June 1, 2013 and Sept. 17, 2014 were exposed to the diseases.
Registered pharmacist Frederick McLeish, a former employee of the hospital, was arrested last month for allegedly taking morphine out of vials administered to patients and replacing it with saline solution.
The state health department said the hospital's notification of patients was made out of an abundance of caution and the likelihood that they contracted the diseases is low. Still, patients were urged to get checked for HIV and Hepatitis.
"It's scary because you don't know if it'll come out later, what's going to happen," Jill Kane, who also received a letter from Shore Medical Center, said.
Polmonari said she couldn't sleep after receiving the letter because she was so distressed by it.
"I was there at 8:30 in the morning banging on people's doors to get my blood work done," she said.
It's unclear how the tampering may have caused patients' exposure to the viruses. Shore Medical Center officials said in a statement today that the hospital takes patient care very seriously and is providing free testing and support to those affected. Both Polmonari and Kane said their hospital-provided tests came back negative, but Kane said she plans to get tested again elsewhere to be sure.
Health officials in New Jersey declined to say whether anyone has actually tested positive for HIV or Hepatitis as a result of the tampering, citing laws protecting private medical information.
McLeish is free on bail.