CONCORD, N.H. – After spending a year investigating the hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital, New Hampshire’s public health department is working with two advocacy groups to share its recommendations.
Chris Adamski of the state Department of Health and Human Services said Monday her office is committed to working with all partners to promote better prevention and detection of drug diversion. Those partners now include the Maryland-based National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators and a patient advocacy group called Hepatitis Outbreaks National Organization for Reform, or HONOReform, Nebraska.
Steve Langan, director of HONOReform, said the three groups plan to send a letter to federal health officials and press for changes, including increased regulation of medical technicians like David Kwiatkowski, who pleaded guilty in August to stealing painkiller syringes from Exeter Hospital and replacing them with saline tainted with his blood.
Before he was hired at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire in 2011, Kwiatkowski worked as a cardiac technologist in 18 hospitals in seven states, moving from job to job despite being fired at least four times over allegations of drug use and theft. Forty-six people in four states have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C he carries.
Langan’s group was founded by one of the 99 cancer patients who were infected with hepatitis C at a Nebraska clinic in 2002. A doctor and nurse lost their licenses in that case, which involved syringes and a saline bag that had been used on an infected patient being reused on other patients.
Langan was in New Hampshire on Monday to attend the annual meeting of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, which created a committee last year to bring together hospitals, pharmacists, lawmakers and others to explore previous drug diversion incidents and ways to address the problem. The issue is complicated, he said, but a good starting point would be creating a national database for medical technicians.
“Think about it from the point of view of the staffing agencies that repeatedly hired David Kwiatkowski,” he said. “They may have seen red flags, but without having any national or even state level database, they’re on the line too.”
In its report issued in June, the state health department’s recommendations focus on three main areas: the creation of comprehensive systems to prevent and detect drug diversion, increased regulation of medical technicians and other health care workers and improved communication between hospitals and state officials.