Pittsburgh Hospital Sued for Allegedly Ignoring Warning Signs of Impending Hepatitis C Outbreak

The Situation

In 2012, a traveling medical technician named David Kwiatkowski was arrested. He was accused of having a drug addiction that impacted the lives of his patients in a very serious way. His charge was seven counts of tampering with a consumer product and seven counts of illegally obtaining drugs. If he would be convicted on all charges, 33 year old Kwiatkowski could spend his life in prison and owe millions of dollars in fines.

These charges were rooted in Kwiatkowski’s behavior during his work with patients. During his working time, his crimes occurred when a patient was prescribed fentanyl (a very powerful anesthetic that is considered to be approximately 75-80 times more powerful than morphine). Kwiatkowski’s role as a medical technician was to take the fentanyl vial, put the medication into a syringe, and administer the shot of medication to the patient. Instead, however, Kwiatkowski was accused of filling the syringe with the fentanyl and injecting it into himself, where he obtained a drug-induced high. In order to avoid being caught, Kwiatkowski then took the needle out of his own arm, filled it with saline, and replaced the needle to be used for a patient’s medical procedure.

This created numerous problems. First, Kwiatkowski was practicing medicine while intoxicated, which is against medical rules and laws. Second, patients were being charged money for medication they did not receive. Third, the patients were experiencing unnecessary and extreme pain as procedures were completed without their being anesthetized, as doctors truly believed they had provided the proper drug to the patient.

However, this situation became more extreme when numerous patients at a hospital where Kwiatkowski worked tested positive for a very specific strain of the hepatitis C virus. Later, it was discovered that Kwiatkowski had the same strain of the virus, allowing for medical evidence connecting the patients to Kwiatkowski and to his illegal drug behaviors. In addition, because Kwiatkowski was a traveling medical technician, the investigation into the number of people he could have infected became very complicated. In ten years, he had worked at eighteen hospitals, which were located in seven states. This required the hospitals to issue warning bulletins to all of the patients who came into contact with Kwiatkowski to come in and be tested for hepatitis C.

The Case Against Kwiatkowski

In 2013, Kwiatkowski was sentenced to 39 years of prison time on the total charges of tampering with a consumer product, as well as for obtaining controlled substances by fraud. At the time of the trial and conviction, many hospitals were still testing their patients, trying to find out exactly how many people were infected by Kwiatkowski’s dirty needles.

The New 2016 Ruling and The Case To Come

It took significant amounts of time and resources but at the conclusion of the testing process in the eighteen hospitals where Kwiatkowski, forty-six people tested positive for this specific strain of hepatitis C. Though there is some sense of justice for many that Kwiatkowski is serving time in prison and is no longer practicing medicine or putting patients at risk, the experience with his dirty needles is not over for so many of those he infected. Hepatitis C is often a chronic illness, with symptoms ranging from exhaustion to mood swings, from depression to jaundice. In some cases, the liver can become so damaged by the virus that permanent cirrhosis can occur, leading to the need for long-term medical intervention or organ transplant.

Based on the damage done to their bodies from the hepatitis C infection, six patients decided to sue the hospital where Kwiatkowski worked and where they became infected. They contend that the hospital knew or should have known about his addiction and that, by not firing him, the hospital allowed the patients to be exposed to the experience that led to their hepatitis C infection. Initially, the courts were uncertain about allowing these lawsuits to move forward, but in July, 2016, the Pennsylvania Superior Court voted 2-1 to allow the lawsuits to move forward. The lawsuit is rooted in the plaintiffs (the patients) arguing that the hospital and/or the staffing agency that Kwiatkowski worked for should have recognized his drug addiction and both removed him from practice and reported him to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In addition, the lawsuit points out that the plaintiffs believe that the lack of doing either of these allowed Kwiatkowski’s behavior to continue, which created a dangerous situation for all patients and directly led to the mass testing required by thousands of patients in numerous states who came into contact with Kwiatkowski during the time he was committing these crimes and jeopardizing the safety of his patients.1-5

View References
  1. CNS - Appeals Court Reinstates Hepatitis C Lawsuits. (2016). Courthousenews.com. Retrieved 25 August 2016, from http://www.courthousenews.com/2016/07/22/appeals-court-reinstates-hepatitis-c-lawsuits.htm
  2. Hepatitis C outbreak raises public health concerns in 8 states - amednews.com. (2012). Amednews.com. Retrieved 25 August 2016, from http://www.amednews.com/article/20120810/health/308109996/8/
  3. Medical Technician With Hep C Indicted by Federal Grand Jury. (2012). HEP. Retrieved 25 August 2016, from https://www.hepmag.com/article/hepatitis-grand-jury-23215-1463246854
  4. Seelye, K. (2012). Man Indicted in New Hampshire in Hepatitis Infections. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 25 August 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/30/us/man-indicted-in-new-hampshire-in-hepatitis-infections.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0
  5. Seelye, K. (2012). Report Cites New Hampshire Hospital in Hepatitis C Outbreak. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 25 August 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/11/us/hospital-technician-investigated-in-hepatitis-c-outbreak.html

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