Top Stories 2012: 'Serial infector' arrested; 6 HaysMed patients test positive
By RANDY GONZALES
A traveling medical technician who made national headlines this summer by allegedly infecting patients in four states with hepatitis C previously worked at Hays Medical Center.
Once HaysMed learned in July of David Kwiatkowski's alleged behavior, the hospital immediately notified patients who might have been affected.
There were 474 patients who were possibly infected at HaysMed in the summer of 2010, but 58 previously had died of various causes prior to testing. Of the 416 patients the Kansas Department of Health and Environment determined were available for testing, there were 391 specimens submitted as of Oct. 24, with six positive results for a strain of hepatitis C closely linked to the strain carried by Kwiatkowski.
"Our primary concern at HaysMed has and will continue to be the health and well-being of the people we serve," said Shae Veach, vice-president of regional operations at HaysMed. "From the start, we have worked closely with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to develop and facilitate a system to identify potentially impacted patients who were treated in the cardiac catheter lab when this individual worked there in 2010, notify those patients, coordinate testing, and provide results to patients as they become available. This close collaboration with KDHE helped to create a swift, comprehensive and ongoing information flow, which we continue to use to support our patients."
HaysMed's 94 percent of patients tested is far better than the results nationwide. At least 3,700 of the approximately 7,900 recommended for testing haven't been tested.
"We are very appreciative of the support we've received from patients and the community over the past months as we addressed the situation," Veach said. "We are grateful to all the HaysMed personnel and other medical professionals for their willingness to rally around the response effort, which allowed us to provide information, testing and continued support swiftly and directly to patients. We have and will continue to provide the quality health care that the residents of western Kansas rely on from HaysMed."
Described by prosecutors as a "serial infector," Kwiatkowski, 33, is accused of stealing syringes of the powerful painkiller fentanyl from the cardiac catheterization lab at New Hampshire's Exeter Hospital and replacing them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his own blood.
In jail since his arrest in July, he pleaded not guilty to 14 federal drug charges earlier this month. Before April 2011, when he was hired in New Hampshire, Kwiatkowski worked as a traveling cardiac technologist in 18 hospitals in seven states, moving from job to job -- despite being fired twice over allegations of drug use and theft. Thirty-two people in New Hampshire have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C that Kwiatkowski carries, along with six in Kansas, five in Maryland and one in Pennsylvania.
"While officials have said this individual's alleged criminal conduct goes beyond the pale of anything they've ever seen, we are looking for any possible ways we can enhance our processes and systems based on this unique situation, in addition to standing policies and procedures that address any number of possible scenarios," Veach said.
Kwiatkowski's trial had been scheduled for February, but lawyers on both sides said they anticipated a delay. Last week, a federal judge granted a defense motion seeking a postponement and scheduled the trial for Oct. 1.
In New Hampshire, where about 3,300 patients were tested, Kwiatkowski is charged with seven counts of illegally obtaining drugs and seven counts of tampering with a consumer product, though prosecutors have said further charges are possible. Although New Hampshire cannot charge him for possible violations in other states, it can use evidence gathered in those jurisdictions in its trial, U.S. Attorney John Kacavas said. Other states are waiting to see the outcome of New Hampshire's case before deciding whether to file charges, he said.
"We continue to reach out to other states affected by this matter," Kacavas said last week. "Other health organizations and departments continue to do their work in their states, but nothing has changed in the sense that our prosecution will go forward. At this point, we are the only prosecution in the country, and we'll see how it rolls out."
Hepatitis C causes serious liver damage, including liver cancer, and is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States. More than 15,000 Americans, most of them baby boomers, die each year from hepatitis C-related illness.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.