Traveling medical technician could have exposed thousands to hepatitis C

By David Ferguson
Tuesday, July 31, 2012 11:07 EDT
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Syringe injection via Shutterstock
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A 33-year-old medical technician who criss-crossed the country for years may have exposed thousands of patients to hepatitis C, according to a report from NPR.

David Kwiatkowsky is accused of diverting syringes full of the powerful opiate drug Fentanyl, injecting the drugs and refilling the needles with saline solution to be sent on to patients. Kwiatkowsky is hepatitis C positive and is believed to have exposed hundreds, if not thousands of patients to the disease.

Since January of 2011, Kwiatkowsky has worked as a cardiac catheter technician at New Hampshire’s Exeter Hospital, where an explosion of hepatits C cases alerted authorities that something was seriously wrong. Medical detective work pointed back to Kwiatkowsky.

The technician was arrested July 19 at a Massachusetts hospital where he had been taken by police after being found incoherent and obviously intoxicated in a hotel room in Marlborough. According to the Associated Press, Kwiatowsky was found reeking of alcohol and surrounded by bottles of prescription pills. He had with him a suicide note that read, “please call Kerry and let her know I passed away. Tell her I couldn’t handle this stress anymore.”

U.S. Attorney John Kacavas, who is the lead investigator on the case against Kwiatkowsky, told NPR that consequences of the medical technician’s actions could reach far beyond Exeter. “It has resulted in where we are today, with at least 30 patients sharing that same strain of hepatitis C,” he said, but cautioned that Kwiatkowsky has worked in 7 other states, where he may have exposed thousands more patients. “So, this has tentacles throughout the country.”

Kwiatowsky has worked in Maryland, Georgia, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Kansas, as well as at a heart care facility in Arizona, where in April of 2010 he was fired after 11 days. Arizona Heart Hospital CEO Monica Bowerman told NPR, “This individual was actually found in the facility’s men’s locker room unresponsive, and he had in his possession some syringes and needles.”

Kwiatowsky tested positive for drugs, lost his technician’s license and was fired. Bowerman, who was not with the Arizona Heart Hospital at the time, said that hospital officials notified the Phoenix Police Department. Within the same month, however, he was able to get hired by a medical staffing firm in Pennsylvania.

He was able to pass a background check and drug test in New Hampshire, where he went to work for Exeter Hospital.

Medical technicians, unlike doctors and nurses, have no central governing body in the U.S. and are therefore screened less thoroughly. Also, budget and labor crunches have led hospitals to rely more and more on temporary and itinerant workers, whose staffing agencies may or may not have done their due diligence on each employee they hire.

Hospitals like to hire traveling and temporary workers because they don’t have to train them or pay them benefits. Lawsuits filed against Exeter Hospital and against the staffing agency that employed Kwiatowsky may permanently change how staffing agencies screen their medical technicians.

Kwiatowsky faces charges of tampering and fraud, but Kacavas told NPR that more charges may emerge as the investigation develops and more infected patients may be found.

“We are closer to the beginning of this investigation than we are to the end of it,” he said. 4,700 patients in New Hampshire have been informed that they need to be tested. Health officials are still trying to outline a procedure for testing people at risk in other states.

(image via Shutterstock)

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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