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Hospital Tech Indicted in N.H. Hepatitis C Outbreak

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A traveling hospital worker accused of stealing drugs and infecting patients with hepatitis C through contaminated syringes faces new federal charges in New Hampshire.

David Kwiatkowski, whom prosecutors describe as a "serial infector," was arrested in July and charged with one count each of illegally obtaining drugs and tampering with a consumer product.

On Wednesday, a federal grand jury indicted him on 14 charges — seven counts of tampering with a consumer product and seven counts of illegally obtaining drugs. The indictment against Kwiatkowski, who remains in custody, replaces the earlier charges.

Until May, Kwiatkowski worked as a cardiac technologist at Exeter Hospital, where 32 patients were diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C he carries. Before that, he worked as a traveling technologist in 18 hospitals in seven states, moving from job to job despite having been fired twice over allegations of drug use and theft.

Thousands of patients in 18 hospitals in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania have since been tested for hepatitis C, a blood-borne viral infection that can cause liver disease and chronic health issues. In addition to the New Hampshire patients, a handful of patients in Kansas and one in Maryland have been found to carry the strain Kwiatkowski carries.

In Exeter, Kwiatkowski is accused of stealing fentanyl, injecting himself and then re-filling the tainted syringes with saline to be used on patients.

The new charges refer to seven incidents between January and March, and were handed up after prosecutors were twice given more time to present the case to the grand jury. In requesting the delays, prosecutors said they were still conducting interviews and complex scientific analysis in multiple states, though the indictments only address Kwiatkowski's time in Exeter.

Kwiatkowski, who pleaded not guilty to the original charges, told investigators he was innocent and suggested that a co-worker had planted a fentanyl syringe found in his car. His lawyer, Bjorn Lange, said Wednesday he hadn't yet read the indictment and had no comment on the new charges.

Exeter Hospital officials have said that while employees raised concerns about Kwiatkowski's appearance — some described him as shaky and sweaty — none suspected him of diverting medication. In each case, Kwiatkowski provided plausible explanations related to either personal medical issues or family crises, the hospital said. Kwiatkowski held the required certification for the job and was given good references from his previous two employers, including one who had said "David has been invaluable in helping us get our lab up and running."

In other states, the institutions that allowed Kwiatkowski to keep working offered a variety of excuses and explanations as to how he slipped by various background checks and managed to get licensed in other states. He was fired in 2008 from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Presbyterian after a co-worked accused him of stealing a fentanyl syringe and sticking it down his pants, but no one called police, and neither the hospital nor the medical staffing agency that placed him in the job informed the national accreditation organization for radiological technicians. A hospital spokeswoman said officials didn't believe they had enough evidence to contact police.

In 2010, Kwiatkowski was fired 10 days into an assignment at Arizona Heart Hospital after being found passed out in a bathroom stall, with a stolen fentanyl syringe floating in the toilet. Police were called but didn't file charges. Hospital officials also notified the staffing agency, which reported the incident to the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. But the accreditation group dropped its inquiry without speaking to anyone at the hospital, and Kwiatkowski landed a new job in Philadelphia days later.
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Associated Press Writer Lynne Tuohy contributed to this report.
 

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