Woman sues UPMC after contracting hepatitis
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Two years before David Kwiatkowski was hired at Hays Medical Center in Kansas, he was caught slipping a syringe full of fentanyl into his pants at UPMC Presbyterian, where hospital officials later discovered a morphine syringe in his locker and fired him.
But they did not tell law enforcement.
By the time he arrived in Hays, he had contracted hepatitis C, according to federal agents, and crossed paths with Linda Ficken, who was being treated for atrial fibrillation in the center's heart catheterization unit. After Mr. Kwiatkowski was arrested in July for infecting 31 patients at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire with the disease in an attempt to steal fentanyl, Ms. Ficken was advised to get tested, and learned she had contracted the precise strain that he carried.
Tuesday, Ms. Ficken, 70, of Andover, Kan., and her husband, William, filed suit against UPMC, saying that if the hospital had reported the incident to law enforcement authorities, Mr. Kwiatkowski might not have been hired at Hays Medical Center and Ms. Ficken might not have to live for the rest of her life with the incurable disease.
"Angry, angry, angry," she said, "and it continues to grow all the time because of the fact that there was so many times that people in different entities did not pick up on the hints of what he was doing to put a stop to it ... I feel like they're as much responsible for my situation today as he is."
The suit, filed Tuesday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, also named two employment agencies -- Maxim Staffing, which placed Mr. Kwiatkowski at UPMC Presbyterian, and Medical Solution LLC, which got him the job in Hays.
According to a criminal complaint, another employee at UPMC Presbyterian saw Mr. Kwiatkowski slip a syringe of fentanyl into his pants in an operating room. Officials found that the fentanyl syringe meant for the patient had been replaced with another liquid. Three empty fentanyl syringes were later found on his person and a morphine syringe was found in his locker. Hospital officials administered a drug test, and found fentanyl in his urine.
Ms. Ficken's attorneys said the federal statute mandates that hospitals tell law enforcement of any theft of controlled substances, even when they have no idea how the drugs disappeared.
Gloria Kreps, a UPMC spokeswoman, said the hospital informed Maxim Staffing, "and believed it was their responsibility to tell the national credentialing agency about the incident."
Ms. Kreps was referring to the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. But Maxim Staffing, which declined comment, did not pass the information along to that agency and nobody informed police, Ms. Ficken's lawyers said.
"That would have been enough to have his license revoked as well as have him arrested and give him a criminal record and so he would not have been free to go on his itinerant work throughout the United States in Maryland, Arizona, Kansas and New Hampshire," said William Caroselli, one of the attorneys for the Fickens.
Ms. Kreps previously told The Associated Press that UPMC officials did not tell police because they did not believe they had enough evidence.
But Mr. Caroselli said that's not a determination for hospitals to make.
"That's not really their obligation to make that determination," he said. "It seems to me that UPMC is in the hospital business and not in the law enforcement business. It's really going to be up to the law enforcement people as to whether or not they're going to conduct an investigation as to whether a person has fentanyl syringes in their locker, on their person and tests positive for fentanyl in their urine."
The suit holds Medical Solutions LLC "vicariously liable" for "failing to properly train, test, supervise and monitor the acts of [Mr.] Kwiatkowski." The company declined comment.
Ms. Ficken learned of the diagnosis as she lay in a hospital bed for treatment of chest pains in early August when her husband called her with the news. She said she was distraught that she may have spread the infection -- which affects the liver and can cause liver cancer -- to her grandchildren.
She suffers from fatigue and muscle cramps on a daily basis, she said, making it difficult for her to even walk across the room. And she worries it will shorten her life.
The Fickens' suit alleges UPMC was negligent in its failure to report the incident to law enforcement and asks for damages and a jury trial.
First Published September 5, 2012 12:01 am