A Maryland-based medical staffing agency is at the center of allegations that it placed a rogue radiological technician into a number of hospitals in Maryland and other states. The technician is believed to have infected dozens of people with hepatitis C.
Maxim Staffing Solutions, a national firm with headquarters in Columbia, Maryland, placed technician David Kwiatkowski into three Baltimore hospitals: Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Maryland General Hospital, and also at Southern Maryland Hospital in Clinton, between 2008 and 2010.
Kwiatkowski was arrested in late July in New Hampshire after he was caught in a hospital stealing narcotic drugs that were intended for patients. He now faces federal charges.
The four Maryland hospitals are sending notices to several hundred patients to get testing for hepatitis C, a viral infection of the liver that, in bad cases, can lead to liver destruction and need for transplant.
Whether Maxim had reason to suspect the technician's danger to patients has yet to be determined. Lawsuits are likely against Maxim and another staffing agency that sent him to hospitals in as many as seven states in the last few years.
It's also unclear whether any of the Maryland hospitals had an inkling of problems with the technician. But at least two other hospitals, the prestigious UPMC Hospital in Pittsburgh and the Arizona Heart Hospital in Phoenix, fired Kwiatkowski after finding him with narcotic drugs.
A couple of months ago, we wrote about the sloppy, widespread clinical practices that put patients at risk of contracting hepatitis C, but this case, it appears, goes well beyond carelessness.
Maxim Staffing is alleged to have sent Kwiatkowski to UPMC in the spring of 2008. There, he was observed by another employee placing a syringe containing fentanyl, a Schedule II narcotic, in his pants. He replaced the missing syringe with another containing another liquid. Management confronted him, found three empty syringes with fentanyl labels on his person and an empty morphine syringe in his locker. His urine tested positive for fentanyl and opiates.
He was fired.
But UPMC did not report the theft, use or diversion of its controlled substances to any government agency or law enforcement authority. The technician was free to practice his alleged crimes elsewhere, and Maxim placed him in a matter of weeks into the first of four Maryland hospitals where he worked.
By the time he tested positive for hepatitis C in June 2010, dozens of patients who had undergone cardiac catheterizations at the hospitals that had employed him had been exposed to a common strain of hepatitis C. Most of them have learned only in recent months of their diagnosis. Based on this information, thousands of cardiac catheterization patients at hospitals where he worked are being tested for hepatitis C.
As noted in our backgrounder, hepatitis C can cause liver failure. The blood thins, and patients bleed easily. In the worst cases, called fulminant hepatic failure, the brain swells and the patient goes into a coma. About half of these patients die without an emergency liver transplant.
In July, a warrant was issued in New Hampshire for the technician’s arrest for acquiring a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception or subterfuge, and for tampering with a consumer product with reckless disregard for the risk he posed to others of death or bodily injury, and for the serious bodily injury that has befallen others.
It’s shocking enough that a drug addict in a position to contaminate hospital equipment with a deadly virus not only would be hired and rehired and rehired without regard for his illness or the harm he created for others. But that the hospital and the staffing agencies that knew about the risk failed to report his crimes is unconscionable.
The tech was placed by Maxim into the four Maryland hospitals AFTER his firing from the Pittsburgh hospital. What excuse does Maxim have for failing to find out what had happened in Pittsburgh and for enabling his further crimes? We will find out in the coming lawsuits.
We do know this much. As a result of this infected technician being given access to patients in seven states across the country, dozens of people face a dire infection, and countless others are left to wonder if and when it will strike. With a hep C diagnosis comes significant costs for treatment and care, the possible loss of livelihood and maybe even life itself. And none of it had to happen.