HealthPlus Surgery Center lawsuit: patient has filed a class-action.

A former patient has filed a class-action lawsuit against a Midland Avenue surgery center whose poor sterilization practices may have exposed nearly 3,800 former patients to hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV during medical procedures earlier this year.

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The three-count lawsuit was filed Friday in state Superior Court in Hackensack by Lauren Marrero, the patient, and her husband, Julio. It claims the HealthPlus Surgery Center in Saddle Brook was negligent, careless, reckless and guilty of “wanton misconduct — on a continuing basis” for exposing patients to the dangerous pathogens.

“The Defendant knew or should have known that the sterilization procedures at their facility were insufficient and posed a substantial risk of harm to the Plaintiffs and others similarly situated between January 1, 2018 and September 7, 2018,” the lawsuit read.

The suit also blamed the center for not properly vetting, training or supervising its medical staff.

The Marreros say the center’s negligence resulted in physical pain, emotional anguish, distress, fear and anxiety, among other things, the suit read. They seek compensatory damages, interest and attorney’s fees.

Mark Manigan, a Roseland attorney representing the center, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is the first to be filed against HealthPlus, which the New Jersey Department of Health ordered closed after a Sept. 7 investigation revealed poor drug storage methods, an outdated infection control plan and a failure to properly clean and disinfect medical hardware and instruments, according to a report released Friday. The center reopened three weeks later when state inspectors found it had fixed the issues.

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Anyone who stayed for a procedure at HealthPlus from January to Sept. 7 may have been exposed, the Health Department has said. But the risk of infection is low, the department added.

Still, 3,778 former patients – including Marrero – received letters the week of Christmas urging them to be tested for the diseases.

“What a thing to wake up to,” said Michael Maggiano, the Fort Lee attorney representing the Marreros. “They need to know what happened. They need to know how this happened. Because when they walked into this facility, they trusted HealthPlus … [Lauren Marrero] feels betrayed.”

But at a Saturday morning news conference, Manigan continued to blame a pair of now-fired employees for failing to follow proper sterilization procedures. Both were let go in September for performance-related issues, he said.

“The investigation revealed that, by and large, the lapses that occurred were attributable to a handful of people who have been removed,” Manigan told reporters. “They’ve been replaced … HealthPlus deeply regrets this incident, but it is proud of how it’s responded to it, and it’s committed to continuing to perform admirably going forward.”

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The center’s nursing director also resigned Sept. 6 – just one day before the Health Department closed HealthPlus. Manigan has declined to say if the resignation was directly related to the complaint and subsequent closure.

Maggiano, the Marreros’ attorney, dismissed Manigan’s statements Saturday. The blame could not be shifted onto the shoulders of individual employees, he said.

“This is about an insidious, systemic failure of a major caregiver institution of Bergen County,” Maggiano said. “The answer can’t be, ‘Well, we’ve fired two people.’”

Yan Moshe, the Long Island real-estate mogul who owns the center and another like it in Hackensack, did not attend the news conference and has not spoken directly to the media.

The Hackensack facility has also been cited in the past for failing to meet safety regulations. But Manigan said Moshe does not plan to change his organization’s management hierarchy in response to the complaints.

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“Mr. Moshe is confident in his current complement of managing staff and clinical staff,” Manigan said.

Betty McCabe, the HealthPlus administrator, is not expected to resign, he added.

Moshe bought Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in December 2017 despite having no experience running a hospital. Now called Hudson Regional Hospital, it is the facility to which HealthPlus is referring patients for testing.

The center is paying for the tests, Manigan said Saturday.

State regulators have also investigated Excel Surgery Center, which Moshe previously owned, according to previous reporting by The Record. Investigators found the center failed to report a parking lot car fire that caused a building evacuation and wasn’t using proper procedures for administering multi-dose vials of medication in the operating room. The center later filed correction plans with the state, which was accepted.

At HealthPlus, investigators found a staff member failed to adequately wet and disinfect a stretcher that held a sheet containing what appeared to be a blood stain, according to the report. They also found workers had crowded too many loose instruments into a small bag used to disinfect medical instruments, precluding total sterilization. And that other sterilized instruments had rust-like stains.

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