Fund set up for victims of deadly meningitis outbreak

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Victims of the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak may now apply for a share of $40 million in compensation set aside by the U.S. Department of Justice through a fund administered by the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office.

The Justice Department in July created the compensation fund for victims who were injected with tainted steroids received from the now-defunct New England Compounding Center, which was based in Framingham, Massachusetts.

U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, the Rochester Republican whose district included several counties affected by the outbreak, hailed the news as a “reassuring step in our fight to get results” for victims and their families.

“These families have gone through unimaginable heartache losing loved ones, caring for the sick and facing financial uncertainty for the last four years,” Bishop said in a statement.

“We will never be able to undo their pain, but today we learned we are that much closer to getting them the help they need.”

Money for the fund comes from federal criminal fines, penalties and forfeited bail bonds and does not include taxpayer dollars.

In 2012, the NECC distributed tainted injections of steroid methylprednisolone acetate to clinics throughout the country, including the Michigan counties of Genesee, Livingston, Macomb and Grand Traverse.

Michigan led the nation with 264 total cases of fungal meningitis and 19 deaths connected to the injections compounded at NECC, according to state health officials. Nationwide, 778 individuals were affected, including 76 deaths among 20 states, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In December 2014, federal prosecutors in Boston charged 14 people in connection with the outbreak, alleging that NECC employees knew they were making the medication in an unsafe and unsanitary way and shipped it for sale anyway.

Barry J. Cadden, owner and head pharmacist of the NECC, and the company’s supervisory pharmacist Glenn A. Chin were charged with 25 acts of second-degree murder in Michigan, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

The compensation fund by the Justice Department is separate from a March settlement of a $10.5 million class-action lawsuit involving more than 300 Michigan victims and survivors involving Michigan Pain Specialists in Genoa Township.

Through the NECC compensation fund, victims may be eligible for reimbursement of expenses up to $25,000 per crime, according to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. In cases where the victim was catastrophically injured or died as a result of the injections, victims could be eligible for a maximum $50,000.

Expenses eligible for reimbursement are those not compensated by insurance or other funds. They may include medical or dental care, including medications and equipment; counseling; funeral and burial costs; lost wages; and loss of financial support for dependents of victims who died as a result of the injections.

Eligible applicants must have been previously identified as a victim or surviving family member of a deceased victim by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.

It’s expected to take several months for the division within the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office to consider the applications compensation, it said.

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