Man accused in hepatitis C outbreak was fired from Arizona hospital

Man accused in hepatitis C outbreak was fired from Arizona hospital
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POSTED: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 11:00am

UPDATED: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 11:04am

The man accused of infecting patients with hepatitis C at a New Hampshire hospital was fired from a job in Arizona two years ago after testing positive for cocaine and marijuana, a public relations agency for Arizona Heart Hospital said Thursday.

David Kwiatkowski was arrested this month in connection with spreading the disease to 30 patients at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire.

Kwiatkowski, 33, also worked as a traveling medical technician on a contract basis for hospitals in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania in the past five years, hospitals and health officials in those states said.

They are trying to get the hundreds or thousands of patients who may have come in contact with him to be tested for the disease.

Kwiatkowski has been treated for the disease, which can pass through contact with contaminated blood, most often via shared needles.

Authorities say the Michigan native injected himself with painkillers meant for patients when he worked at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire and left the syringes for reuse.

Kwiatkowski told authorities he found out he had hepatitis C in May 2012, but U.S. Attorney John Kacavas said Kwiatkowski knew he had hepatitis C as early as 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, police were notified of the positive result.

The Phoenix hospital said it canceled his contract with a staffing agency the next day.

Kwiatkowski worked at the hospital for just 11 days, the release said, and the hospital is trying to reach patients who visited the cardiac catherization lab during that time.

A public defender representing Kwiatkowski did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment.

In the Exeter case, Kwiatkowski has been charged with obtaining controlled substances by fraud and tampering with a consumer product, namely a hospital syringe, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. He is suspected of stealing fentanyl, a powerful analgesic that is substantially more potent than morphine, the affidavit said.

Hepatitis C is considered to be among the most serious of hepatitis viruses. It is typically asymptomatic, going undetected until liver damage shows up, according to the Mayo Clinic.

New Hampshire's health department is asking everyone who was a patient in Exeter's operating rooms and the intensive care unit between April 1, 2011, and May 25 of this year be tested.

Those are two areas that Kwiatkowski visited during his "routine duties to transport patients," an Exeter Hospital statement said. But it added he "was not involved with procedures or patient care."

The hospital said "there is an extremely small chance that anyone will be found to have been infected with a hepatitis C strain that is genetically linked to Kwiatkowski outside of the Cardiac Catheterization Unit."

"However, as we continue to learn about Kwiatkowski's history in other states from the ongoing criminal investigation, and out of an abundance of caution, Exeter Hospital supports the (health department's) decision to offer expanded testing to patients treated in these two other areas even though Kwiatkowski had no formal role supporting procedures in those areas."

U.S. Attorney John P. Kacavas said his office interviewed employees at Exeter who said they had seen Kwiatkowski acting strangely, one time sweating profusely and with bloodshot eyes.

"One of them described him as unfit to provide medical care and his supervisor sent him home," Kacavas said. "He provided 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."

According to state and hospital officials, he worked as a radiology technician and in cardiac catheterization labs in the following locations:

-- Oakwood Annapolis Hospital in Wayne, Michigan, January to September 2007;

-- Saint Francis Hospital, Poughkeepsie, New York, November 2007 to February 2008;

-- UPMC Presbyterian, Pittsburgh, March 2008 to May 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;

-- Temple University Hospital, Philadelphia, April 2010;

-- Hays Medical Center, Hays, Kansas, May 2010 to September 2010;

-- Houston Medical Center, Warner Robins, Georgia, October 2010 to March 2011.

Institutions say they are calling former patients and offering free testing, and that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is helping state health officers and hospitals tackle the problem.

Kwiatkowski was arrested earlier this month after police found him in a Massachusetts hotel room "in an intoxicated state" and took him to a hospital, the affidavit states. He is now being held in the Strafford County, New Hampshire, jail. He could face more than 20 years in prison if convicted.

Kwiatkowski appeared in New Hampshire federal court Tuesday and waived his right to a detention hearing. Kacavas said it is possible more charges could be filed.

-- CNN's Joe Sterling, Elizabeth Cohen, William Hudson, Jennifer Bixler and John Bonifield contributed to this report.

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