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Testing under way in hepatitis case

7/27/2012

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Approximately 460 former Hays Medical Center patients possibly exposed to hepatitis C in 2010 have begun to be tested for the blood-borne disease.

Shae Veach, HaysMed vice president of regional operations, said in an email blood is being sent to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for testing. It takes two to three weeks to receive results.

David Kwiatkowski is accused of causing an outbreak of hepatitis C in New Hampshire, where he faces federal charges of  obtaining controlled substances by fraud and tampering with a consumer product. In 2010, he was employed at HaysMed as a traveling hospital technician.

Kwiatkowski worked in the cardiac catheterization laboratory at HaysMed from May 24, 2010, to Sept. 22, 2010.  KDHE said only those HaysMed patients who underwent cardiac catheterization procedures at that time were potentially put at risk. Kansas is one of six states Kwiatkowski is believed to have worked.

Veach said HaysMed could not comment on Kwiatkowski, a former contract radiology technologist while at the hospital, due to pending charges. Veach added fewer than 1 percent of workers at HaysMed are from contract agencies.

"There is no one currently working at HaysMed under contract from the agency for which this individual worked, and we do not plan to use that agency in the future," Veach said.

HaysMed acted quickly when the allegations against Kwiatkowski surfaced, Veach said.

"As soon as we understood the potential impact to Hays-Med patients, we quickly began creating a system for notification and testing as well as coordination with (KDHE)," he said.

"Identifying the situation and creating a notification and testing process took several days. As soon as that system was in place, we sent registered letters to the identified patients," Veach said.

HaysMed released a statement July 20, the day before the letters were mailed. In that statement, the hospital said it "was deeply concerned by the alleged criminal conduct" by Kwiatkowski in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire U.S. Attorney John Kacavas called Kwiatkowski a "serial infector" who has worked in at least six states since 2007.

Kwiatkowski, a contract radiology technologist, is accused of stealing anesthetic drugs from the lab in New Hampshire.

He allegedly injected himself and contaminated syringes that later were used on patients, 30 of whom have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C that Kwiatkowski carries.

Kwiatkowski told investigators he was diagnosed in May, but authorities said there is evidence he has had the disease since at least June 2010.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne viral infection that can cause liver damage and chronic health problems.

HaysMed has asked all patients possibly infected to have blood drawn and be tested for hepatitis C at no charge. The hospital encourages to have blood drawn Mondays through Thursdays at the Quest site, 2501 Canterbury. Patients also can have the lab work done at their local hospital. Information about additional test sites is available at haysmed.com.

HaysMed also has set up a telephone hotline. The number to call is (877) 261-7140. The line is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Tuesday.

Starting Wednesday, the hotline will be open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and remain available as long as necessary to provide information.

* The Associated Press contributed to this report.