Mayo Clinic technician pleads guilty to spreading hepatitis C

5 patients infected, 1 man died after treatment at Jacksonville clinic

Published On: May 11 2012 11:48:20 AM EDT   Updated On: May 24 2011 06:18:19 AM EDT

A Mayo Clinic radiation technician accused of switching syringes used on five patients, causing the death of one and harm to the other four, pleaded guilty Friday morning to all counts of drug tampering and spreading hepatitis C.

Steven Beumel, 48, entered the federal courtroom Thursday planning to plead guilty ahead of his trial, which was scheduled to begin Monday, but he changed his mind after he was reminded that he could face up to life in prison.

After Judge Marcia Morales Howard gave him until Friday morning to think about it, Beumel followed through with the guilty plea on one count of tampering with a consumer product resulting in death, four counts of tampering with a consumer product resulting in serious bodily injury, and five counts of stealing Fentanyl by deception.

In August 2010 after a result of a 3½-year internal investigation, the Mayo Clinc began notifying thousands of patients that they may have been exposed to hepatitis C by an employee who was injecting himself with Fentanyl, a narcotic painkiller, then reusing the syringes on patients. About 3,500 patients were tested.

According to prosecutors, five patients contracted hepatitis C and one died as a result of Beumel's tampering.

Beumel worked at Mayo from 2004 to 2010 and worked in a similar job at Memorial Hospital from 1992 to 2004. After his arrest in May 2011, police said Beumel admitted injecting himself with Fentanyl, which was intended for patients.

Mayo officials said Beumel then refilled the syringe that had contained the painkiller with saline solution and injected that into patients. He said he didn't know he had hepatitis C, but the judge said he still knew he'd be putting patients at risk.

Beumel's tampering occurred from 2006 through 2008 at the Mayo Clinic's interventional radiology unit.

Epidemiologists from the Mayo Clinic, Florida Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worked for more than three years to solve the hepatitis C outbreak at the Mayo Clinic. It was eventually linked to Beumel.

The Mayo Clinic immediately fired Buemel and reported his actions to law enforcement. The clinic tested thousands of patients who were potentially put at risk by Beumel's actions. Two patients from that testing effort were linked to Beumel.

The first patient discovered to have hepatitis C linked to Beumel was a liver transplant patient who received a new liver in September 2006. During a radiology procedure in November 2006, Beumel took this patient's Fentanyl and infected him with hepatitis C. The patient battled Hepatitis C for nearly four years. He died from complications related to hepatitis C, never knowing how he got it.

The man's widow filed a lawsuit.

Beumel has remained in custody since his arrest. A sentencing date has not been yet scheduled.