Crime

Arrest made in hepatitis C outbreak at Puyallup hospital. Nurse could face assault charge

Puyallup police have recommended that Pierce County prosecutors charge a 31-year-old nurse with second-degree assault, contending she knowingly infected two patients of Puyallup’s Good Samaritan Hospital with hepatitis C and stole injectable drugs from the hospital.

Cora Weberg, 31, was booked into the Pierce County Jail early Friday following an arrest by Puyallup police. Weberg has not been charged with a crime.

She denies infecting patients, according to Bryan Hershman, her defense attorney. She also said she did not use needles on patients that she had used on herself. Hospital leaders said earlier this week that she admitted taking drugs from the hospital.

"She wouldn't hurt a bug," her mother, Eunice Weberg, said at a news conference Friday afternoon.

Puyallup police spokesman Ryan Portmann said Friday that detectives did not interview Weberg at the time of her arrest but added that police had sufficient cause to detain her.

"We feel confident we have probable cause," Portmann said.

A preliminary finding of probable cause filed by Puyallup police and obtained by The News Tribune tells a story that conflicts with initial accounts from hospital leaders, who said Weberg was “surprised” when told by state investigators that she tested positive for the virus.

The preliminary finding states that Weberg "intentionally contaminated medicine or another substance with her own blood; she then administered the medicine or other substance intravenously; Cora Weberg knew or reasonably should have known that her blood was likely to contain one or more blood-borne pathogens; and Cora Weberg's blood did, in fact, contain and transmit Hepatitis C virus."

Hershman, the defense attorney, said he hasn't seen evidence to show Weberg's intent.

cora weberg.JPG
Cora Weberg, 31, was arrested at the Canadian border on a pre-planned trip to Guam. Booked on suspicion of infecting two Good Samaritan patients with hepatitis C. KIRO 7 News

"On the one hand, my heart goes out to these infected people," he said. "On the other hand, this investigation has been going on for months. If there was a genetic link between these patients and Cora, you would certainly think it would be definitively announced or released by the Department of Health and that hasn’t happened yet.

"This is this woman's life. This is a terrible allegation. I hope we all stand back and take a deep breath and really look at what the evidence says."

Hospital leaders announced the infection of the two patients Monday, coupled with a public safety alert and a recommendation that 2,600 patients who might have interacted with Weberg from Aug. 4, 2017, through March 23 of this year seek testing and treatment.

Those tests are ongoing. Hospital leaders said Tuesday they have tested hundreds of patients for hepatitis C, but results have not been released yet.

Investigation of the hepatitis C infections began in March. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, which monitors such cases, connected the infected patients to each other and then to Weberg, who treated the patients. Health department experts, relying on information from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, established that the tests revealed a conclusive link between the two patients and the genetic sources of the virus.

The link to Weberg was less clear, health department leaders found. The viral material from Weberg’s tests was limited and insufficient to show a conclusive genetic link to the patients, though she tested positive for the disease.

On Friday, Nigel Turner, the division director of Communicable Disease Control at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, was asked whether Weberg spread the virus or contracted it.

"That's a good question," Turner said. "I think that's something that we would ask during the investigation."

According to intermediaries reached late Thursday, Weberg questions whether she actually contracted hepatitis C. Reportedly, she cited test results that show possible exposure to the virus but not to a level that would allow her to infect others.

Her mother, also a registered nurse, was adamant Friday.

"She doesn't think she has it," Eunice Weberg said. "That's the last thing that was on her mind, that she would have something like this."

Public records show Weberg is a registered nurse licensed in Washington, Oregon and California. She obtained her Washington license in 2017. Her Oregon and California licenses date to 2012. Her Washington license is still active, pending investigation. She has resigned her position at Good Samaritan and told a state investigator she is not practicing elsewhere.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486 @seanrobinsonTNT
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