Anger, Embarrassment At Mass. Hearing On Meningitis Outbreak

Massachusetts lawmakers on Wednesday grilled Patrick administration leaders and regulators about what went wrong in the oversight of a Framingham compounding pharmacy at the center of a deadly nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak.

For regulators testifying, there was uniform anger, frustration and embarrassment about their inability to prevent the outbreak stemming from the New England Compounding Center, a pharmacy with a history of complaints, deception and a lack of cooperation with authorities. The outbreak has caused the deaths of 32 patients across the country.

Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby said that while the responsibility lies with NECC for distributing contaminated steroids, several state regulators erred by not following up on complaints and taking appropriate disciplinary actions.

Bigby said those individuals have been fired or are under investigation.

Samuel Penta testified that pharmacy inspectors like him were too few, and poorly equipped.

"As far as equipment and so forth, we have the computer on our desk, and we do the best we can," Penta said. "When we get in the field, at that point, [you] try to get a couple of inspections around you done."

Penta also cited big gaps between state and federal oversight.

Bigby said the state needs a system in place that doesn't leave room for human error, and that the state may also overhaul professional courts so there is a better balance of, say, pharmacists and regulators.

Boston Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez said state lawmakers are only beginning to digest the complicated situation after Wednesday’s initial hearing.

"This is the first of a number," Sanchez said. "As we’ve said in the beginning, we’re taking a long view approach of this issue. We don't think there are any easy answers, but we want to be sure that whatever we do do, it’s responsible and it’s after a deliberative process."

This article was originally published on November 14, 2012.


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