CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — More than two-thirds of the patients who sued Exeter Hospital after a traveling medical technician infected them with hepatitis C have settled their cases, according to a hospital attorney.
Attorney William Dailey said 23 of the 33 lawsuits have been settled, and the remaining cases are scheduled for mediation in the next few months. Any that don’t get resolved through mediation would go to trial next year, he said.
“We’re moving along,” he said. “Exeter Hospital is very pleased that these cases involving their patients have settled.”
The civil lawsuits seek to hold the hospital accountable for its hiring and management of David Kwiatkowski, who is serving 39 years in prison for stealing painkillers and replacing them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood.
Kwiatkowski had worked as a cardiac technologist in seven states before being hired in New Hampshire in 2011, despite being fired numerous times over drug allegations. Since his arrest in 2012, 46 people in New Hampshire, Maryland, Kansas and Pennsylvania have been diagnosed with the same strain of the hepatitis C virus he carries, and authorities say the disease played a role in a Kansas woman’s death. Kwiatkowski also worked in Michigan, New York, Arizona and Georgia.
At Kwiatkowski’s sentencing in December, many of the infected patients spoke angrily and tearfully of the pain Kwiatkowski had inflicted by giving them hepatitis C, a bloodborne virus that can cause liver disease and chronic health problems. Most of the New Hampshire patients are suing Exeter Hospital, the national accreditation organization for radiological technicians and two of the staffing agencies that employed Kwiatkowski.
The hospital has strongly denied allegations that it ignored employee concerns about Kwiatkowski’s drug use, saying he always offered plausible explanations for his appearance and behavior. Dailey said some of the patients are now clear of the infection and have made full recoveries.
While those lawsuits continue, New Hampshire lawmakers are considering two bills responding to the outbreak. One bill currently before the Senate would require health care facilities to develop and implement drug-free workplace policies and to test employees for drugs if there is a reasonable suspicion of drug use. The other would create a board to register health care workers who are not otherwise already licensed or registered and who have access to both drugs and patients.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)