SALT LAKE CITY – A national health care fraud enforcement operation this week resulted in charges for 412 people across the country, including a Utah nurse accused of diverting narcotics and contaminating patients with hepatitis C.
According to a press release from the Department of Justice, the enforcement includes charges against 115 medical professionals for fraud schemes that amount to an estimated $1.3 billion in false billings.
Among those defendants is a former Utah nurse who made headlines several years ago in connection with patients being exposed to Hepatitis C.
Elet Neilson has been indicted on charges of fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance, tampering with a consumer product, and for infecting more than seven people with Hepatitis C.
The indictment alleges that Neilson diverted narcotics from various patients in 2014 for her own use. The indictment alleges she was, “diverting the narcotics and injecting it prior to use in another person”, which resulted in serious bodily injury.
Her actions came to light after health experts found at least seven patients under her care had become infected with the exact same sub-strain of Hepatitis C that Neilson was infected with.
While it is not confirmed that Neilson used those needles on herself before injecting patients, The U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah said transmitted blood via improper needle or drug use is the most common way for Hepatitis C to be transmitted.
“There should be no doubt she is the source of this disease,” said John Huber, U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah.
Huber said this week’s wide-scale enforcement action is something federal authorities do every year, but he said this is the largest crackdown to date, and it also involves more opioid cases than previous years. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider opioids and heroin an epidemic.
“When the CDC calls something an epidemic, that’s not hyperbole,” Huber said. “Those are scientists calling it that, so that tells you how serious is.”
Huber said Neilson’s case shows how much that epidemic is impacting Utah.
“When you have a trained professional, a medical professional, succumbing to opioid illicit use and abuse, then we’ve got a problem,” he said. “What should be one of the safest places in our community… now becomes a dangerous place for unwitting, unsuspecting, undeserving victims because of selfish acts that are alleged in this indictment by one individual, a nurse of all people.”
He said the woman’s actions will have lifelong consequences for the alleged victims.
“She has now allegedly infected at least seven people with Hepatitis C, which in most cases is a lifelong chronic infection… and these people didn’t deserve it in any way,” Huber said.
Neilson lost her license in December of 2014 when the allegations came to light. At the time, She pleaded guilty to attempted possession of a controlled substance, served no jail time and was issued a $413 fine.
It was not until this week that federal authorities secured an indictment in the case. Huber said it takes a long time to gather the necessary documentation and analysis for a case like this, which was made more complex by the involvement of numerous federal agencies.
“Sometimes it takes a long time to build a federal case,” Huber said.
Huber said they will continue to crackdown on medical fraud and the opioid epidemic.
“I hope to send this message to lawbreakers, especially within the opioid crisis, that when you victimize others because of your greed and your selfishness, we will bring you to justice and you will pay a very high price for those selfish decisions that you’ve made,” he said.