CONCORD, N.H. -- A traveling hospital worker accused of stealing drugs and infecting patients with hepatitis C through contaminated syringes pleaded not guilty to the charges in federal court Monday.
David Kwiatkowski, whom prosecutors describe as a "serial infector," was indicted last week on multiple charges of tampering with a consumer product and illegally obtaining drugs.
A trial was scheduled for February, although U.S. Attorney John Kacavas said that given the case's complexity, it likely would occur later in the year.
Until May, Mr. Kwiatkowski worked as a cardiac technologist at Exeter Hospital, where 32 patients were diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C that he carries. Before that, he worked as a traveling technologist in 18 hospitals in seven states, including a stint in Pittsburgh, moving from job to job despite having been fired twice over allegations of drug use and theft.
Mr. Kwiatkowski was employed as a radiology technician at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh from March to May 2008. According to a complaint filed there against Mr. Kwiatkowski, a hospital employee saw him enter an operating room, lift his shirt and put a syringe containing fentanyl in his pants. Additional syringes were found on him and in his locker. He was terminated from UPMC but continued on with Maxim Healthcare Services, a staffing agency.
After leaving the Pittsburgh area, Mr. Kwiatkowski worked in at least eight more facilities.
Thousands of patients in Pennsylvania as well as Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan and New York 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 Mr. Kwiatkowski carries.
In Exeter, Mr. Kwiatkowski is accused of stealing fentanyl, injecting himself and then re-filling the tainted syringes with saline to be used on patients.
The charges refer to seven incidents between January and March. Prosecutors said they were still conducting interviews and complex scientific analyses in multiple states, though the indictments address only Mr. Kwiatkowski's time in Exeter.
Mr. Kwiatkowski, arrested in July, had suggested that a co-worker had planted a fentanyl syringe found in his car.
Exeter Hospital officials have said that while employees raised concerns about Mr. Kwiatkowski's appearance -- some described him as shaky and sweaty -- none suspected him of diverting medication. In each case, he provided plausible explanations related to either personal medical issues or family crises, the hospital said. Mr. Kwiatkowski held the required certification for the job and was given good references from his previous two employers.
In October, 17 Western Pennsylvanians filed a lawsuit against UPMC and Maxim over the hospital's and agency's actions regarding Mr. Kwiatkowski. The complaint alleging negligence seeks class-action status for as many has 2,000 patients who may have been exposed to hepatitis C during the man's time working for UPMC.
The hospital system has already been sued by patients of other hospitals in other states, who claimed that UPMC and Maxim did not report Mr. Kwiatkowski to any government agency to try to stop his alleged activities.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff writer Paula Reed Ward contributed.