SOMERS POINT, N.J. (WPVI) --Officials at a southern New Jersey hospital have notified 213 patients they may have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis B or C because of drug tampering that may have caused patients to come in contact with an employee's blood.
The warning applied to patients at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point who received intravenous morphine or hydromorphone medications at the hospitals between June 1, 2013, and Sept. 17, 2014, the medical center said.
Arlene Polmonari of Atlantic City is one of those 213 patients who received a letter in the mail.
"When I got the letters, I was hysterical. I called my daughter crying and saying, 'I can't believe this.' And they send you the information sheet about the diseases and how it's not curable for HIV and I'm like, 'Oh my God,'" Polmonari said.
The testing was recommended after a former pharmacist at the hospital, 53-year-old Frederick McLeish of Egg Harbor Township, was arrested January 21st for drug tampering.
Prosecutors allege McLeish was stealing morphine and replacing it with saline.
State health officials say the risk of exposure is low, but testing is warranted because patients may have come in contact with McLeish's blood and it's unknown what, if any, infection control he used when allegedly handling the morphine vials.
Arlene Polmonari had two surgeries during the time period in question.
"How can you send this letter out without a phone call or something? Obviously, it's going to cost you a lot to investigate this and warn the public, couldn't you have made a personal phone call to calm people down?" Polmonari said.
Hospital officials won't talk on camera but have released a statement that reads in part:
We take patient care very seriously...We immediately suspended the employee and conducted a thorough internal investigation...the employee was terminated.
"Think of all the people he could have exposed. I don't know what to say about him. I just don't know why he ever got past screening," Polmonari said.
The Center for Disease Control is working with New Jersey to monitor the situation.
McLeish is free on $20,000 bail and could face up to 10 years behind bars if convicted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.