Courts Still Sorting Blame in New Hampshire Hepatitis C Outbreak

By HOLLY RAMER | July 7, 2014

Two years after a New Hampshire cardiac technician was accused of infecting patients with hepatitis C, a handful of patients are still suing Exeter Hospital, which is pursuing its own lawsuit seeking help covering its settlement costs.

A federal court judge recently set a July 2016 trial date for the hospital’s lawsuit against two staffing companies that employed David Kwiatkowski and an organization that registers medical technologists. The hospital has reached confidential settlements with all but three of the 29 people who sued after Kwiatkowski’s arrest in July 2012 but argues that Maxim Healthcare Services, Triage Staffing and the American Registry of Radiological Technologists also should be held accountable.

Kwiatkowski, who is serving 39 years in prison for stealing painkillers and replacing them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood, had worked as a traveling cardiac technologist in seven states before being hired in New Hampshire in 2011, despite being fired numerous times over drug allegations. Forty-six people in New Hampshire, Maryland, Kansas and Pennsylvania have been diagnosed with the same strain of the hepatitis C virus he carries, and authorities say the disease played a role in one woman’s death. Kwiatkowski also worked in Michigan, New York, Arizona and Georgia.

“Prior to the time that Kwiatkowski arrived at Exeter Hospital, each of the defendants knew, or through the exercise of reasonable care, should have known, that Kwiatkowski was unfit for continued employment as a traveling cardiac catheterization technician,” the hospital’s attorneys wrote last month.

In its lawsuit, Exeter Hospital argues that Maryland-based Maxim Healthcare knew Kwiatkowski had been fired from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 2008 after being accused of swiping a fentanyl syringe from an operating room when it placed him in another job instead of reporting him to law enforcement or licensing authorities. The staffing agency later said an employee fabricated an email message claiming it had reported Kwiatkowski to the Maryland Board of Physicians, but it argues that it should not be held liable for crimes Kwiatkowski committed years later, after being vetted by 10 other hospitals and multiple other agencies.

In 2010, Kwiatkwoski was fired by the Arizona Heart Hospital after being found passed out in a bathroom with a fentanyl syringe floating in the toilet. The agency that had placed him there notified the registry organization, but Exeter Hospital claims the organization took no meaningful action to investigate or revoke Kwiatkowski’s certification. ARRT counters that Exeter’s claims are based on vague allegations and has failed to show that its conduct caused any Exeter patients to become infected.

Triage Staffing, the Nebraska company that sent Kwiatkowski to Exeter in 2011, argues that it is not liable for his conduct because he was not acting within the scope of his employment as a technician, and that Exeter Hospital acted negligently.

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