(July 27, 2012) – A week after a traveling medical technician was charged with causing a hepatitis C outbreak in New Hampshire, a dozen hospitals in seven other states were still working yesterday to identify possible victims.
Officials read over David Kwiatkowski’s resume and found a hospital official in Arizona stated that Kwiatkowski had been fired from her facility in April 2010 after he was found unresponsive in a men’s locker room with syringes and needles. It was discovered that he had cocaine and marijuana in his system, as reported by Bowman, chief executive officer of the Arizona Heart Hospital.
Kwiatkowski, 33, is accused of stealing anesthetic drugs from Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire, injecting himself with the painkillers and leaving the syringes for reuse, contaminating patients. 30 patients have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C that he carries.
Testing has been recommended for 4,700 people in New Hampshire alone, and officials are determining who should be tested elsewhere. Health officials have confirmed that Kwiatkowski worked in Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania before being hired in New Hampshire in April 2011.
It is difficult to track down all the victims that have been contaminated since Kwiatkowski worked as a traveling medical technician, on a contract basis, across the country, having been employed by various agencies.
So far, one of the 30 people believed to have contracted hepatitis C from Kwiatkowski, is suing a Nebraska-based health-staffing agency.
He was diagnosed with hepatitis C in June, approximately 14 months after he underwent a cardiac catheterization at Exeter Hospital. He was treated at the hospital’s cardiac lab a month after they hired Kwiatkowski.
Kwiatkowski told investigators that he was diagnosed with hepatitis C in May 2012, but authorities say there is evidence he has had the disease since at least June 2010.
On April 1 of that year, Kwiatkowski was found unresponsive in the men’s locker room at Arizona Heart Hospital “in possession of syringes and needles,” the written statement from the hospital said. After he was given a drug test in the emergency room, the police were notified of the positive result. The Phoenix hospital said it canceled his contract with a staffing agency the next day. (He worked at the hospital for 11 days).
In a lawsuit filed Sunday in federal court in Nebraska, it was alleged that the staffing agency was negligent in hiring, employing and supervising Kwiatkowski as a traveling technician and in sending him to Exeter. The suit claims that the agency should have known of the likelihood that Kwiatkowski could cause harm and that the company intentionally misrepresented his qualifications and employment record.
Kwiatkowski grew up in Michigan and worked as a “traveler” sent by staffing agencies to hospitals around the country, usually for temporary jobs. Federal prosecutors claim that he has worked in at least six states since 2007.
Though authorities have not publicly identified the other states, health officials in Michigan, Kansas, Maryland and New York have confirmed his employment.
He worked at Exeter Hospital from April 20 until May, when he was fired after an outbreak was discovered.
According to court documents, Kwiatkowski told investigators he did not steal drugs, is “not a shooter,” and is scared of needles. He also said that he was allergic to fentanyl, the powerful anesthetic he is accused of stealing, although medical records indicate that he was given the drug during a medical procedure in 2011.
Former co-workers in other states told investigators Kwiatkowski was known for telling false stories, including telling them that he had cancer. According to court documents, he was fired for falsifying his timesheets at one hospital, was accused of stealing fentanyl from a hospital operating room in 2008 and caused significant suspicion in Exeter, where co-workers said he sometimes looked like he was “on something.” The head of the cardiac lab said, “Kwiatkowski would always provide a plausible explanation for his condition, which was that he had been crying his eyes out because his aunt had died and he was an emotional wreck.”
Twenty-five former patients at St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where Kwiatkowski worked for three months in late 2007And early 2008, have been asked to get tested. In Kansas, state health officials are sending letters to 460 patients who were treated at the cardiac catheterization lab at Hays Medical Center from May 24, 2010 to September 22, 2010. In Maryland, hundreds of patients are being contacted by the four hospitals where Kwiatkowski worked between May 2008 and March 2010. None of the four hospitals, including The Johns Hopkins Hospital and a V.A. Hospital in Baltimore, reported that Kwiatkowski was fired or had suspicious behavior during his employment.
That was not the case in Arizona. Although he worked at Maryvale Hospital from March through June 2009 without any incident, he was fired 11 days after being hired at Arizona Heart Hospital. The agency that hired him did report his firing to a state regulatory board, as well as to a national certification organization. They reported that once the agency began their investigation, Kwiatkowski surrendered his certification allowing him to work in Arizona.
Officials have identified 270 patients at Maryvale and less than 200 patients at the heart hospital who could have been exposed to Kwiatkowski.
In Georgia, the identification process has not yet been completed at Houston Medical Center. Kwiatkowski worked in the cardiac cath lab there from October 2010 to March 2011, although they say that he did not have access to the hospital’s medication system.
However, Kwiatkowski did not have access to the medication system at Exeter Hospital, either. It is believed that he was able to steal medication that other employees were in the process of preparing for patients and quickly switch it with syringes he had filled with another liquid, possibly saline. Former co-workers reported that he sometimes came in on his days off and attended procedures not assigned to him.
Originally, testing was only recommended for patients who had been treated at Exeter’s cardiac lab, but state officials expanded their recommendation to include anyone who underwent surgery there or was admitted to the ICU because Kwiatkowski sometimes took patients to those areas. It is better to be safe, than sorry.
To be on the safe side, anyone who was a patient in any of the hospitals where Kwiatkowski was employed should be tested by the hospital for hepatitis C.
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