Tech may have infected patients with Hepatitis C in as many as eight states, officials confirm
The state Department of Health says David Kwiatkowski had assignments in Pennsylvania in 2008 and 2010. He also worked as a traveling medical technician on a contract basis for hospitals in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan and New York during the past five years, hospitals and health officials confirmed to CNN.
Authorities in New Hampshire say Kwiatkowski injected himself with anesthetic drugs stolen from a lab at Exeter Hospital, contaminating syringes later used on patients. Thirty patients have been diagnosed with the strain of hepatitis C that Kwiatkowski carries.
Officials in Pennsylvania did not specify where Kwiatkowski worked during his temporary assignments. Health department spokeswoman Kait Gillis says they're trying to determine if those assignments constitute a public health risk.
A federal prosecutor said on Tuesday he expects to bring more charges, and health officials said they are casting a wider net as they look for more victims.
In his first court appearance on two drug charges, Kwiatkowski briefly answered a judge's questions, agreeing that there is enough evidence to keep him incarcerated while the case goes to a grand jury. Afterward, U.S. Attorney John Kacavas said more charges are likely, possibly one for each infected patient.
Kwiatkowski, who was charged last week with fraudulently obtaining drugs and tampering with a consumer product, is accused of stealing anesthetic drugs from the cardiac catheterization lab at Exeter Hospital where he worked, injecting himself and contaminating syringes that were later used on patients. Thirty have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C that Kwiatkowski carries.
Initially, only patients who had been treated in the Exeter Hospital cardiac lab were asked to get tested, but testing is now recommended for anyone who had surgery at the New Hampshire establishment at or was admitted to its intensive care unit from April 1, 2011, to May 25, 2012, the timeframe of Kwiatkowski's employment. According to the hospital, Kwiatkowski occasionally moved patients to operating rooms or the ICU, but he wasn't involved with procedures or patient care. The testing recommendation doesn't include patients of the hospital's ambulatory surgical center.
"As health care providers, our focus is first and foremost on our patients' care and safety," said Nancy Baese, president of the hospital's medical staff. "We would rather that thousands of our patients be tested by the state even if they all turn up negative than to miss one patient who might have been infected by this alleged criminal."
According to CNN, authorities in the states where Kwiatkowski worked say patients who may have come in contact should be tested. Arizona health officials are confirming details in order to correctly inform the public of any risk, while Johns Hopkins has already called in 200 patients who had a procedure during the time Kwiatkowski worked there. They and other medical establishments are offering free testing as a precaution. The hospitals he worked at include:
- Oakwood Annapolis Hospital in Wayne, Michigan, January to September 2007
- Saint Francis Hospital, Poughkeepsie, New York, November 2007 to February 2008
- Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center, May 2008 to November 2008
- Southern Maryland Hospital, Clinton, Maryland, December 2008 to February 2009
- Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, July 2009 to January 2010
- Maryland General Hospital, Baltimore, January 2010 to March 2010
- Hays Medical Center, Hays, Kansas, May 2010 to September 2010
- Houston Medical Center, Warner Robins, Georgia, October 2010 to March 2011
Kwiatkowski, who grew up in Michigan, worked as a traveler sent by staffing agencies to hospitals around the country, usually for temporary jobs. Federal prosecutors initially said he had worked in at least six states since 2007; Kacavas increased that number to eight on Tuesday.
Former co-workers in other states told investigators that Kwiatkowski was known for telling false stories, including saying that he had cancer. According to court documents, he was fired for falsifying his time sheets at one hospital, accused of stealing an anesthetic drug from a hospital operating room in 2008 and aroused significant suspicion in Exeter.
One co-worker said he recalled seeing a red-faced, red-eyed Kwiatkowski with white foam around his mouth. Others said he was at times shaky, sweaty and looked like he was "on something." When a worker complained, Kwiatkowski told a supervisor he had been up since 3 a.m. crying over his aunt's recent death; his parents later told investigators no relatives had died in the last several years. They also said that while their son took prescription medication and had alcohol and anger problems, he did not use illegal drugs.
Kwiatkowski told investigators he did not steal drugs, is "not a shooter" and is scared of needles, according to court documents. It has been revealed that he tested positive for Hepatitis C as early as June 2010. His court-appointed lawyer declined to comment Tuesday.
In a statement Tuesday, Exeter Hospital said it was sad that those who reportedly noticed cases of drug diversion apparently failed to report them to law enforcement.
"This inaction allegedly resulted in Kwiatkowski being able to secure employment in other hospitals around the country, including Exeter Hospital, resulting in this hepatitis C outbreak that has touched thousands of individuals across the New Hampshire seacoast and beyond."
Montero said the state will be sending letters to affected patients this week inviting them to a public forum Thursday night at Exeter High School. Testing clinics will be held Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at the school where officials will be using a rapid-response blood test that will give results in 20 minutes rather than the customary several days or weeks. Those who test positive will need additional testing, however, Montero said.
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