Tuberculosis Outbreak Case Mishandled, Per DHEC Director
On Monday, July 15th, the current director of DHEC admitted that her agency botched the investigation into the tuberculosis outbreak in Ninety Six, South Carolina.
Catherine Templeton, the director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, said the department’s poor response led to her dismissing several staff members who were involved in the failed tuberculosis outbreak investigation.
Currently, more than 100 people in Greenwood County have caught tuberculosis in the tuberculosis outbreak. This number includes 50 school children, who were exposed to the disease by a janitor who has since been quarantined at a local hospital.
Tuberculosis outbreaks are rare in the United States. Even when a person catches the disease, they often do not suffer any adverse effects of the infection because treatment is so effective. However, the tuberculosis outbreak in Greenwood County has affected several people in the area when the disease spread into their lungs.
The original tuberculosis investigation began in March. At that time, DHEC tested several people in the school, and between eight and twelve people were confirmed to have the disease, none of which at the time were students.
However, Templeton insisted that the results in March were not an excuse for the agency to move so slowly in the tuberculosis investigation. She added that the reason given for not testing children immediately was a flimsy one.
“When asked why the children weren’t tested, the response was the teachers were taller,” Templeton said. She fired four DHEC employees for problems with the tuberculosis outbreak investigation.
“DHEC screwed this up,” Templeton said in an interview with The State. “I’m sort of as indignant and angry about it as anybody else. It’s not how I run the railroad. It’s why they are fired.”
“They all shared this lethargy,” Templeton said, noting Monday that the department was preparing to file answers to three wrongful termination lawsuits from former employees.
Templeton added that she did not learn about problems with the tuberculosis outbreak investigation until May 20th, her first of two unannounced visits to the Greenwood County regional office. She immediately took over the investigation, and within a week made sure parents were notified about the tuberculosis outbreak. She also set up testing for students at Ninety Six Elementary School.
Several Lawsuits Filed After Tuberculosis Outbreak Investigation Firings
Malinda Martin was one of the employees of the Greenwood County DHEC office who was fired after problems with the tuberculosis outbreak investigation came to light. In her wrongful termination lawsuit, she said that that, despite her investigation into troubling reports from Ninety-Six Elementary School, she was told not to test the children for tuberculosis. Then, she was fired for not testing the children soon enough.
“Although you were advised by Central Office TB (tuberculosis) staff not to follow up on TB testing on the group of students at the school, it was still your decision on whether or not further testing should be done. Despite the high rate, you decided to continue the process and not expand testing to the students,” according to a termination letter provided to the Herald-Journal by Martin’s attorney, John Reckenbeil.
Martin said that on April 8th, she and her colleague were told in a conference call that they were overreacting. DHEC elected not to test the children until two months later. Her lawsuit says, “Despite being warned of the gravity of the situation, DHEC failed to respond to (Martin’s) requests and made the decision not to test the school children until May 31.”
In addition to the wrongful termination lawsuits, DHEC faces five personal injury lawsuits related to the botched tuberculosis outbreak investigation.
The Strom Law Firm Can Help with Personal Injury Cases Related to the Tuberculosis Outbreak
If you or your child have tested positive with tuberculosis, and believe that you caught the disease because of the Greenwood County tuberculosis outbreak, you do not have to suffer in silence. You may be entitled to compensation through a personal injury case. The attorneys at the Strom Law Firm can help. We offer free, confidential consultations so you can discuss the facts of your case. Contact us today for help. 803.252.4800.