Exeter Hospital facing 19 lawsuits from hepatitis C victims
Aug. 03--EXETER -- A majority of the 30 patients who were infected with hepatitis C while receiving treatment at Exeter Hospital have now filed lawsuits seeking compensation for their physical and emotional damages.
Exeter Hospital is named in 19 lawsuits filed in Rockingham Superior Court by former Exeter Hospital patients who now carry the liver disease.
They include 18 lawsuits filed on behalf of individual patients who tested positive and, in some cases, their spouses. Another eight infected patients have joined a class-action lawsuit drafted by Concord attorney Peter McGrath.
A former Exeter Hospital cardiovascular technician is facing federal drug charges in connection with the hepatitis C outbreak, which came to light in May.
Federal investigators say 33-year-old David Kwiatkowski, a traveling hospital worker, spread the virus to patients in the process of abusing stolen hospital narcotics. He allegedly stole syringes of the anesthesia drug fentanyl, injected himself, then allowed syringes contaminated with his blood to be reused on patients.
At least 25 of the 30 patients who have tested positive for hepatitis C are now suing the hospital.
Kwiatkowski has been employed as a traveling medical technician in at least eight states since 2007, including New York, Maryland, Michigan, Georgia, Kansas, Arizona and Pennsylvania. His arrest last month has spurred more than a dozen hospitals to begin reviewing their patient records to identify people who may have been exposed to the virus.
McGrath said he has recently amended the language in the class action lawsuit in order to add a second defendant in addition to Exeter Hospital. The suit now also seeks compensation from Triage Staffing, the Nebraska firm that placed Kwiatkowski in a temporary position at Exeter Hospital in 2011.
Before he was hired in Exeter, Kwiatkowski was fired by hospitals in Pennsylvania and Arizona due to problems with his conduct. In one instance in 2010, Kwiatkowski was found passed out inside a men's restroom while working at the Arizona Heart Hospital.
According to documents obtained by Foster's Daily Democrat, the hospital worker who found Kwiatkowski reported finding a syringe labeled "fentanyl" floating inside the toilet beside him.
Springboard Staffing, which supplied Kwiatkowski to work at Arizona Heart Hospital, said last week it fired Kwiatkowski immediately after it was notified. The company also notified a state radiology board of its decision to terminate Kwiatkowski. However, the incident was never investigated because Kwiatkowski moved out of the state and gave up his certification to work in Arizona.
He went on to work in hospitals in Pennsylvania, Kansas and Georgia before reaching New Hampshire.
In an interview Thursday, McGrath said his class action lawsuit has grown to include 120 clients, including between 30 and 40 people who are still awaiting test results to find out if they contracted hepatitis C. About 50 more of the plaintiffs are people who tested negative.
McGrath said he is also in contact with two former patients of Hays Medical Center in Kansas who have tested positive for hepatitis C. Kwiatkowski worked at the facility from May 24, 2010 to Sept. 22, 2010. Hays is in the process of notifying 460 patients who were treated at its cardiac catheterization laboratory of the situation and offering free hepatitis C testing.
McGrath said the patients are waiting to learn whether they are carrying the same strain of the virus as Kwiatkowski.
"It's shocking how careless it appears that Exeter Hospital was, and that maybe other hospitals were," he said. "It's very concerning that our hospitals don't do a better job to protect their patients."
Manchester medical malpractice attorney Mark Abramson, of the law firm Abramson Brown & Dugan, is representing 12 Exeter Hospital patients who were infected with hepatitis C. They include an 82-year-old Exeter father and husband, a 67-year-old father from Kingston, a 52-year-old married man with children from Raymond and a 46-year-old married father from Newmarket.
Attorneys Alfred T. Catalfo, III, of Dover, and Paul M. Monzione, of Wolfeboro, have filed suit on behalf of one client, and say they are preparing litigation for several others.
Portsmouth attorney Michael Rainboth, of the firm Coughlin, Rainboth, Murphy & Lown, is representing four clients, including a 61-year-old Newmarket woman who was among the first to file suit after the hepatitis C outbreak was announced. The woman is a diabetic who had a procedure done in the hospital's cardiac catheterization laboratory in February 2012, Rainboth said.
It was in the same month that 67-year-old Lee resident William Rooney, a former patient of Exeter Hospital's cardiac catheterization laboratory, learned he was infected. According to his attorney, Rooney was puzzled by the diagnosis, which came three months before the hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital was discovered.
The virus is transferred through direct blood contact or from unsterilized or contaminated equipment used or handled by a person infected with the virus. The hepatitis C virus can't be contracted through casual contact, meaning you can't get hepatitis C from shaking hands, hugging or sitting next to an infected person.
Portsmouth attorney John E. Lyons is representing Rooney in a lawsuit filed earlier this week. According to Lyons, after Rooney tested positive for the disease, he warned hospital staffers he believed he had been infected while undergoing treatment at Exeter Hospital.
"They told him he must be having sex with other women or an intravenous drug user," Lyons said in an interview Thursday.
Rooney, a grandfather, has been married close to four decades. A review of his patient records from the hospital determined that Kwiatkowski was among the staff members who treated him during his hospital visit in September 2011, Lyons said.
Exeter Hospital has declined to comment on all pending litigation and the federal and state investigations.
(c)2012 the Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)
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