Friday, June 14, 2024

Three charged with negligent homicide in Durango meningitis case

Three people have been ordered to stand trial on homicide charges related to a meningitis outbreak in Durango that claimed 35 lives.

An anesthesiologist, the former head of Durango health regulator Coprised and an employee of that organization were arrested last week in connection with the deadly outbreak, which affected a total of 79 patients – mainly pregnant women – who had spinal anesthetics at private hospitals in Durango city in recent months.

Families of victims of the meningitis outbreak in Durango and supporters at a protest on Thursday to demand justice.

 

On Sunday, a judge ordered an anesthesiologist identified as Omar “N.” to stand trial on charges of homicide due to negligence. Following his arrest, Durango Attorney General Sonia de la Garza alleged that he used contaminated medication and “improper procedures” in administering spinal blocks.

The doctor allegedly used contaminated morphine at four private hospitals at which he worked. The tainted drug, which may have been improperly stored, is believed to have been the cause of most of the fungal meningitis cases and deaths.

Citing Durango authorities, the Associated Press reported that Omar “N.,” who is set to go on trial next month, “apparently carried his own morphine from one private hospital to another, spreading a fungal infection that contaminated the medication at the first clinic.”

Durango medical personnel wore white outside the arraignment of anesthesiologist Omar N. Sunday to show their support for the doctor who’s accused of homicidal negligence after morphine he gave to patients at multiple Durango clinics turned out to be contaminated with the Fusarium Solani fungus.  

 

“… Some smaller hospitals or maternity clinics in Mexico don’t have their own dispensing pharmacies or are not authorized to handle controlled medications like opiates, and thus rely on anesthesiologists to bring their own,” AP said.

The Durango Attorney General’s Office (FGED) said in December that the meningitis infections were caused by the fungus Fusarium Solani.

Joaquin Antonio Gardeazabal Niebla, ex head of Coprised agency in Durango
Joaquín Antonio Gardeazabal Niebla is one of three suspects being held in preventative custody for negligence and corruption. Although he became the head of the health regulator Coprised in Durango in 2020, he did not hold a medical degree, the state Attorney General’s Office says. (Joaquín Antonio Gardeazabal/Facebook)

At a separate hearing on Sunday, ex-Coprised director Joaquín Antonio Gardeazabal Niebla and former health inspector Guadalupe “N.” were also ordered to stand trial on charges of homicide due to negligence. The former also faces a charge of corruption due to improper exercise of public office.

The ex-Coprised officials were allegedly aware of irregularities at the Hospital del Parque in Durango city, including that it didn’t have an adequate place to store medications, but allowed it to continue operating. Omar “N.” worked at that hospital and three others in the state capital.

Barring a successful appeal against the charges they face, the former health officials will go on trial in May. All three of the accused are currently being held in pretrial detention at the Altiplano prison in México state, the Durango Attorney General’s Office said in a press release.

Omar N., who identified himself as Omar de la Rocha in an online video he posted of himself talking about the case shortly before his arrest, said that he understood the perspective of the families of victims but that he felt scapegoated by authorities, who he said behaved “arbitrarily” and wanted to see him and the other suspects as “criminals, like murderers.”

“I’ve felt as if pursued underwater,” accused anesthesiologist Omar de la Rocha said in a video posted online shortly before his arrest, “in the dark, rumors; in meetings [with authorities] where blaming me isn’t mentioned directly but, indeed, that’s how they want me to be seen.”

 

The FGED said in December that it had obtained arrest warrants against administrators and owners of four private hospitals in Durango where patients contracted fungal meningitis during operations, but those people have not yet been detained.

With reports from El Sol de Durango, Excélsior, Aristegui Noticias and AP

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