The medical center is still trying to reach 23 people to schedule screenings.

Two more former Riverside patients have tested positive for hepatitis C, bringing the total to three, a Riverside spokesman said Monday.

Riverside Regional Medical Center is providing precautionary screenings to about 300 patients who may have come in contact with a nurse anesthetist who worked there July 9 through Dec. 22.

Riverside officials found out last month that Jon Dale Jones, who worked as an independent contractor at Riverside last year, is suspected of infecting up to 15 patients in Texas in 2004. However, Riverside officials say it is unlikely the three patients contracted it from Jones. He has submitted to Riverside officials a lab report indicating his hepatitis C is inactive, which means it wouldn't spread to another person.

So far, 227 patients have been screened. Those who tested positive have been contacted.

"We still do not believe that there is any tie between these additional cases and the nurse anesthetist," said Peter Glagola, public relations director.

The patients may have been exposed to it years ago but were never tested, said David Trump, health director of the Peninsula Health District. About 1.6 percent of Virginians have hepatitis C, he said.

Hepatitis C is a virus that's spread through contact with infected blood. But only about 10 percent of people newly infected with hepatitis C show symptoms, which include fever, fatigue and jaundice, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Riverside is still trying to reach 23 people to schedule screenings.

Anesthesia services are provided at Riverside by Virginia Anesthesia and Perioperative Care Specialists. The group sometimes calls upon agencies such as National Anesthesia, where Jones worked, to plug shortages, said Paul Rein, an anesthesiologist and president of Virginia Anesthesia and Perioperative Care Specialists.

"There is a national shortage of anesthesia providers," Rein said. "We're constantly recruiting, but to fill needs sometimes, we use an agency."

When Jones started working at Riverside, there were no red flags, Rein said.

"Everything that was checked on Jon Jones was OK," he said. "To get hospital privileges now is a very complex process. There's a detailed background check. You check where they worked previously. You check where they went to school. There's letters of recommendation. ... When everything comes out negative, there's no reason to be suspicious."

And that continued while Jones worked at Riverside, Rein said.

"We never had a problem with his patients in the recovery room having a lot of pain," Rein said. "His patients were taken good care of. There wasn't anything to lead us to be suspicious of him."

Jones was a nurse anesthetist, which is a registered nurse who has completed a two-year nurse anesthesia program, Rein said.

"In Virginia, a nurse anesthetist is always supervised by a physician," Rein said. "While it's not mandated by law that they have to be supervised by an anesthesiologist, in a hospital or an ambulatory care center, they're going to be supervised by an anesthesiologist."

After a three-year federal investigation, Jones was arrested in March, accused of assaulting three patients and possession of a controlled substance by fraud. He was accused of stealing patients' painkillers during surgeries at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, a military hospital in El Paso, Texas, in 2004.

Rein emphasized that patients don't get stuck with needles in the operating room. When they come in the door, they already have an IV in place.


Published: April 8, 2008