Last Friday U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn threw out a plea bargain deal for former Rose Medical Center employee Kristen Parker, who admitted infecting surgical patients with hepatitis C through needles contaminated by her own drug use. No real surprise here: Blackburn is even more of a control freak than the rest of the federal bench, and many of Parker's victims have complained that federal prosecutors didn't adequately consult them about the plea bargain negotiation.
In fact, victims of Parker's reckless quest for fentanyl, who may well exceed the 35 patients the prosecution has listed, have been kept out of the loop for much of the investigation, as noted in my September feature "Going Viral." It's doubtful that the sentence Blackburn imposes will be much different from the twenty years the government was seeking, but it should include a few additional features that could benefit others down the road.
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Here are a few suggestions:
1. At least the first six months of Parker's sentence should include mandatory daily viewings of her tear-stained videotaped confessions. She would be required to identify and correct every gutless evasion, drug-fogged pathetic justification, half-assed rationalization, self-absorbed "I'm-not-a-bad-person" bid for sympathy and knee-jerk excuse contained therein. Upon completion of this hard labor, she will be expected to produce a full, complete and truthful account that will encompass all of her actions involving drugs and needles that could have potentially exposed anyone to disease or her junkie logic. In particular, she must come clean about the potential infection of those Rose patients who may have been exposed to a different genotype because of the needles she left lying around at home, available to other drug users.
2. Five years into her prison time, require Parker to work in a hospice setting with terminal inmates. No access to drugs, of course: Her role would be that of a counselor and observer. Perhaps heroin withdrawal, which Parker has endured on several occasions (at one point telling family members she was just "adjusting to the altitude" of her move to Colorado), will seem less remarkable compared to withdrawal from existence. In any event, the experience may place the many problems and difficulties she has faced in her life into proper perspective.
3. Ten years into her prison time, Parker must develop and implement a hepatitis C prevention and awareness program for the entire inmate population. The prevention component may have minimal effect: Hep C is rampant inside prison walls, where illegal drug use and tattooing with shared needles has shaped a perfect breeding ground for the blood-borne disease. But this program will be expected to have a particular emphasis on personal responsibility, warning of the consequences of spreading the disease to others through reckless behavior. Parker's own story will be presented as a cautionary tale entitled, "What Not to Do."