Patient files suit in hepatitis case
By RANDY GONZALES
Andover resident Linda Ficken, one of three HaysMed patients who reportedly has tested positive with a strain of the hepatitis C virus closely related to that carried by former contract worker David Kwiatkowski, had a civil suit filed in her behalf Monday in the court of common pleas in Allegheny County, Pa.
Defendants in the suit filed on behalf of Ficken and her husband, William, are UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside, a hospital in Pittsburgh, and two medical staffing agencies, Maxim Staffing Solutions and Medical Solutions.
"In their failure to report and monitor Mr. Kwiatkowski's highly illicit behavior, UPMC, Maxim Staffing Solutions, and Medical Solutions each exhibited a reckless indifference to the rights and safety of thousands of patients across the country," William R. Caroselli of the Pittsburgh-based law firm Caroselli, Beachler, McTiernan & Conboy, said in a statement. "As a result, Linda Ficken and potentially many others like her will have to pay the price. Those companies need to be held accountable for their irresponsible negligence."
Kwiatkowski was arrested in New Hampshire on July 19 and charged with illegally obtaining drugs and tampering with a consumer product. He is accused of stealing drugs from Exeter Hospital and contaminating syringes used on patients.
Kwiatkowski also worked in the catheterization lab at HaysMed from May 24 to Sept. 22, 2010.
Ficken was a patient at the hospital during the time of Kwiatkowski's employment.
Shae Veach, HaysMed vice president of regional operations, said in an email Tuesday the hospital "will continue to take any and all steps necessary to regulate narcotics."
"Drug diversion is unacceptable in any circumstance and hospitals around the country, including HaysMed, continue to explore additional means of preventing and deterring this type of behavior through advanced technology and monitoring," Veach said. "We undergo detailed annual and periodic inspections and accreditation surveys conducted by experts from multiple federal and state regulatory agencies including the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and DNV Healthcare, a leading accreditor of U.S. hospitals."
"Health care necessarily and rightly involves human interaction, therefore we strongly emphasize not only our rules and regulations, but also finding and retaining the right people for their jobs," Veach added. "It is important to remember that this individual's alleged actions do not represent the hard-working health care providers at HaysMed, who provide quality health care to western Kansans with integrity and compassion every day."
The complaint filed in court Tuesday alleges Kwiatkowski tested positive for hepatitis C in June 2010. Lynn R. Johnson, an attorney representing Ficken, said Tuesday that Kwiatkowski found out he had hepatitis C after visiting a doctor in Salina. Johnson said Janet Simpson, an attorney representing HaysMed, informed him the hospital learned of the circumstances of Kwiatkowski's positive test through a Department of Justice investigation.
Previously, Kwiatkowski worked at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center from March 2008 to May 2008 as a radiologic technician; he was placed there by Maxim staffing agency.
The suit alleges Kwiatkowski, on or about May 7, 2008, was observed putting a syringe in his pants in the operating room.
UPMC determined a syringe containing fentanyl was missing, having been replaced by a different liquid. UPMC personnel confronted Kwiatkowski and found three empty syringes with fentanyl labels on him. An empty morphine syringe was found in his locker. Fentanyl and opiates were found in Kwiatkwoski's urine.
As a result of the incident, Kwiatkowski no longer was allowed to work at UPMC. The suit alleges UPMC and Maxim "did not report Kwiatkowski's theft use and/or diversion of controlled substances to any state, federal or other governmental agency, or to any law enforcement entity."
After leaving UPMC, Kwiatkowski worked at several hospitals, including HaysMed in 2010. Ficken, Andover, was a patient at the hospital at the time of his employment.
His employer was Medical Solutions, the staffing agency that placed Kwiatkowski at HaysMed. The complaint alleges Kwiatkowski endangered Ficken, 70, by "contaminating syringes at HaysMed and/or causing her to be infected with hepatitis C and/or in such ways as may be proven by evidence."
At least 32 people who were patients at Exeter have been identified as testing positive for a strain of hepatitis C closely related to the strain carried by Kwiatkowski. The hepatitis C virus, which causes serious liver damage, including liver cancer, is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States.
"If these companies would have acted responsibly, they could have halted Mr. Kwiatkowski's terrifying parade of reckless behavior and prevented the hepatitis C infections," said Johnson of the Kansas City-based law firm Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman in a statement. "There is no excuse for what happened to Linda, and it's imperative that we hold the companies accountable for their wanton negligence."
UPMC did not return a call Tuesday afternoon seeking comment.