Sunday, February 1, 2015

Tennessee Defendants in Meningitis Cases Face Questioning

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

For the dozens of Tennessee victims of the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak longstanding litigation is about to enter a new and critical stage.
This week two key staffers at the Nashville clinic where dozens of patients were injected with fungus laden spinal steroids will undergo what is likely to be hours of questioning.
Court records show Debra Schamberg and Scott Butler will be questioned on Tuesday and Wednesday. Schamberg was a staffer at the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center. Butler was the chief administrative officer.
The depositions, part of the discovery process leading to an actual trial, are the first to be faced by Tennessee defendants in the meningitis cases. In a typical deposition, witnesses are placed under oath. The sessions are generally held in private attorneys' offices.
Questions are likely to focus on how and why the Nashville clinic turned to the New England Compounding Center to become the supplier of methyprednisolone acetate.
Schamberg and Butler are and were employees of the Howell Allen Clinic, a 50 percent owner of the neurosurgical center.
The attorney for Howell Allen did not respond to a request for comment on the upcoming depositions.
Though the cases were later transferred to federal court, arguments in cases first filed in Davidson Circuit Court, centered on how and why the neurosurgical center decided in 2012 to switch suppliers and purchase drugs from NECC, the now defunct firm blamed for the outbreak which sickened 778 patients, 76 of whom later died.
"We look forward to questioning the corporate decision-makers for the corporations that sold these contaminated drugs to unsuspecting patients," said Nashville attorney Mark Chalos, who represents some of the victims.
He added that the depositions "are another step in our continuing efforts to hold the wrong-doers accountable for the harm they caused."
Court filings include 2011 emails between Schamberg and an NECC salesman about the price that would be charged for individual vials of the steroid.
"What price would we need to give you to earn your business?” the salesman asked.
Schamberg emailed back stating that if he could get the price below $6.50 per vial, “then we can talk.”
Three days later the salesman emailed back offering to provide steroids at that price.
Following that exchange, according to an amended complaint filed in federal court, NECC’s then-current supplier raised its price from $6.49 to $8.95 per vial.
“Saint Thomas was not willing to pay $8.95 per vial of methylprednisolone acetate,” the complaint in one case states.
In a subsequent email to the NECC salesman, Schamberg wrote that if the pricing is still $6.50 per vial, “I am willing to do business with you.”
The same day, an exhibit shows, she placed an order for 700 vials.
In court hearings in Nashville, lawyers for the clinic vehemently denied that pricing had anything to do with the switch in suppliers. Instead they attributed the change to drug shortages.
The questioning also is likely to focus on the relationship between the clinic and the Saint Thomas Health, which owned the other 50 percent stake in the neurosurgical center.


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