I’m from the government… and don’t worry about getting screwed

screwed1Why victims of deadly meningitis outbreak haven’t been compensated


Kathy Pugh quit her job when her mother got sick from a tainted medication, and now Pugh spends her days helping the once-vibrant 85-year-old get out of bed, shower and dress. If her mom ever were compensated for what she endured, Pugh said she would like to install laminate flooring — which would make it easier to move around in a wheelchair — and maybe buy a handicap van.

Evelyn Bates-March, Pugh’s mother, is one of hundreds of victims of a 2012 outbreak of fungal meningitis that federal investigators traced to a batch of contaminated steroid injections manufactured by the New England Compounding Center. A civil fund of more than $200 million was created after victims sued the compounding center and companies with which it did business. The federal government also has money available to compensate crime victims.

But the 85-year-old, like all the others affected by the outbreak, has yet to see a dime to help her cope with how her life has changed since she was given a tainted shot.

[Federal prosecutors charge 14 in deadly meningitis outbreak]

Ongoing negotiations with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over what portion that agency, which paid some of the medical bills, should receive have stalled any payments to victims from the civil fund.
Kathy Pugh, right, sits with her mother, Evelyn Bates-March, who fell ill after receiving a tainted steroid shot in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Pugh)

Prosecutors — who charged two leaders of the compounding center with racketeering and second-degree murder — separately have advocated making federal victim-assistance money available to the victims, though their request has been waylaid by a dispute in the top levels of the Justice Department, people familiar with the case said.

“It’s been devastating,” Pugh said. “Everybody has dropped the ball.”

The case illustrates how the court system, the Justice Department and other parts of the federal bureaucracy can slow or even stop crime victims from obtaining financial assistance that most would agree they deserve.

Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice Department spokesman, said in a statement, “We are still exploring funding options for the NECC victims,” but he declined to provide any specific information about what that exploration entailed. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston, which is prosecuting the criminal case, reiterated that “no final determination has been made.”

“We will continue to do all that we can to ensure compensation for the victims in this case,” said the spokeswoman, Christina Sterling.

The 2012 meningitis outbreak had a devastating impact. According to federal prosecutors and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 750 people got a fungal infection after receiving injections from the New England Compounding Center, and at least 64 people died — making it the deadliest meningitis outbreak in U.S. history.

In 2014, federal prosecutors alleged the incident was criminal. They charged 14 people in a 131-count indictment, alleging employees at the New England Compounding Center knew they were producing medication in an unsafe and unsanitary way and shipping it to customers anyway. Owner and head pharmacist Barry J. Cadden and supervisory pharmacist Glenn A. Chin were charged with 25 acts of second-degree murder and are scheduled to go on trial later this year.
Lyn Laperriere in 2006, six years before he was killed by a deadly meningitis outbreak. His wife, Penny Laperriere, is now among hundreds unsuccessfully seeking compensation as crime victims from the Justice Department. (Photo courtesy of Penny Laperriere)

[Compounding pharmacy linked to meningitis outbreak knew of mold, bacteria contamination]

Lawyer Stephen J. Weymouth, who represents Chin, said his client, who has pleaded not guilty, “wants people to be compensated financially from as many different sources as can be possibly financed.” An attorney for Cadden did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment.

Penny Laperriere, 59, of Sterling Heights, Mich., said her husband, Lyn, began to struggle within a few weeks of having a shot with the tainted medication in 2012. A bowler whose average topped 200 a game, Lyn suddenly began to struggle with balance and couldn’t finish a practice, she said. Then came the splitting headaches, which caused pain so severe he had to be hospitalized, she said.

Laperriere said doctors traced Lyn’s symptoms to a contaminated shot, but the treatment — anti-fungal medication with nasty side effects — failed. One night, when Lyn’s parents and sister were in town visiting, Laperriere said doctors called to say her husband, a retired General Motors machine repairman who would travel the country racing cars, had “flat-lined.” She said doctors revived him but “I knew he was brain-dead.”

In October 2012, the family took him off life support. He was six days shy of his 62nd birthday.

Laperriere said she had to sell her home because it required too much maintenance, and she had to put her and her husband’s dogs up for adoption because their vet and other bills were too high. She said she does not think she will see any money in compensation after lawyers and others take their cut.

“Which is really sad,” Laperriere said. “My husband died, and his pain and suffering is worth nothing?”

There are two pools of money from which victims might be paid: federal funds and funds from the civil lawsuits. Kimberly Dougherty, a Boston lawyer representing 100 victims, said each victim has been sent a letter stating how much he or she is eligible to receive from the civil fund, but payouts have been stalled while lawyers negotiate with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which covered some of the victims’ medical care and has liens on the payouts. Dougherty said the victims share “a sense of frustration, particularly when they know there’s money sitting in a bank account that they can’t access.”

A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a statement that Medicare “paid for medical care associated with” the outbreak and was “required by law to recover those payments from settlements like the NECC settlement.”

“We understand that many NECC settlement recipients who are Medicare beneficiaries are concerned about the distribution of the settlement money,” the spokesman said. “Medicare routinely works to make sure that, in similar situations, beneficiaries are able to keep a portion of their settlement.”

Separately, federal prosecutors in Boston and the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime have advocated that victims be compensated using funds from the Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program, which sets aside $50 million from the federal government’s $9 billion Crime Victims Fund for victims of terrorism or mass violence. But the Office of Justice Programs’ Office of General Counsel determined that the injuries sustained by the victims were not the result of an “intentional violent criminal act,” as the program requires and, thus, were not eligible for funds from it, according to officials familiar with the matter.

Though Justice Department officials say other funding mechanisms are being discussed, victims say they think they are being treated unfairly.

Willard Mazure Jr., 55, of Jackson, Mich., said before he received the tainted shot, he was a heavy-equipment operator who would hunt and fish regularly. Now he lives off disability and his wife’s income, unable to work because his short-term memory is virtually gone and even modest physical activity can leave his legs feeling as if they’re being prodded with pins and needles.

The compensation for each victim from Justice Department funds, which are administered through the state, might be minimal. Massachusetts law likely limits the payouts for most to $25,000, though those with “catastrophic” injuries could receive as much as $50,000. The victims say even that would help, and they have waged an aggressive campaign to persuade government officials to free up the money. Officials estimate that as much as $25 million might be needed for all those affected.

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Eighteen members of Congress from both political parties recently wrote to Shaun Donovan, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, asking that the decision to keep money from the victims be reversed. A spokeswoman for that agency said in a statement that the issue was “still being considered by the Department of Justice and has not yet been referred to the Office of Management and Budget.”

“If and when it is, we will move swiftly to make a determination,” the spokeswoman said.

Mazure said although financial compensation would be welcome, it would not undo the damage the shots inflicted on him.

“Every cent will help,” Mazure said, “but nothing will make me whole.”

Adam Goldman contributed to this report.

One Response

  1. $25 million dollars to “square” these folks and the surviving members of their immediate families away? The FUBAR that is the United States alphabet soup of bureaucracies can’t seem to figure to how to come up with the funding to take care of these folks for something that is now coming up on it’s fourth anniversary? The US government will spend that much money in less time than it takes for me to type this rant. The amount of money in question is around one/one millionth of the current national debt. How hard would it have been for Congress to pass a bill and the President to sign said bill into law, providing the $25 million stated in the article? I’m feeling generous today. How about make it a nice round $100 million dollars. There have been Power-ball Lottery winners that “won” more than the $100 million.

    For all the bureaucratic masturbatory propaganda and exercise that the FDA engages in when it’s time to remind Joe and Jane Sixpack how they save lives and protect the public, where were they when New England Compounding Pharmacy, aka, NECC was producing tainted corticosteroid injections? As I seem to recall, the FDA was at least aware of some of the issues present at NECC before this tragic event occurred. Where was the Massachusetts BOP when these tainted parenteral products were being prepared and shipped? The BOP knew that there were deficiencies that needed to be addressed long before the fungal spores that were growing in those vials were even a glimmer in the parent fungal colony’s eye (yeah, I know…fungi don’t have eyes…it’s a metaphor)? Why aren’t those agencies on the hook for some of this compensatory money?

    The public safety apparatus in this country is a joke. They prevent people and entities, on some level, from being proactive and protecting themselves and then only serve to show up and clean up the carnage, pursuing the culpable parties after the fact. This is one of those areas where a true, free market economy, private trade group or professional consortium, using economic incentives instead of the State’s hammer could just as easily regulate the profession, a current BOP set of duties; this would be preferentially better and done for far less money than the State could ever do. In the mean time, dozens of victims and their survivors sit around, getting one day closer to their eventual demise, while an obscenely resourced State argues over from which trough the promised (or implied as promised) economic relief is coming from. There is no issue about the money not being there. The issue is an artificial one, like so many created by leviathan government, that impedes some semblance of pragmatic justice for these human beings.

    Yep, we’re talking about real, flesh and blood human beings here…all y’all know what I’m talking about. These real, flesh and blood human beings are the kind of entity, individual or collective, that the State feels less inclined to play nice with and allow themselves to be held accountable by. This only stops when we real, flesh and blood human beings, unite and revoke our consent to be ruled over and treated as such. The revocation is one simple, monosyllabic word. It is the word NO. As Steve says, “If you do nothing, you get nothing.”

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