State expands hepatitis C testing to 6,000 more patients
EXETER — The state is expanding hepatitis C testing to about 6,000 additional Exeter Hospital patients, well beyond the approximately 1,200 originally targeted for testing.
The state Department of Health and Human Services is asking that anyone who had surgery at the hospital or were admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit from April 1, 2011 to May 25, 2012 be tested for the virus.
David Kwiatkowski’s employment history (confirmed hospitals only):
January 2007-September 2007: Oakwood Hospital, Trenton, Mich.
November 2007-February 2008: Saint Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
May 2008–November 2008: The Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Baltimore, Md.
December 2008–February 2009: Southern Maryland Hospital, Clinton, Md.
July 2009–January 2010: Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Md.
January 2010–March 2010: Maryland General Hospital, Baltimore, Md.
May 2010-September 2010: Hays Medical Center in Hays, Kansas
October 2010 to March 2011: Houston Medical Center in Warner Robins, Ga.
March 2011-May 2012: Exeter Hospital, Exeter, N.H.
“We have acquired some information that suggests the person that we believed caused this particular event had access to these rooms,” said Dr. José Montero, director of public health at the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Montero acknowledged that this news will panic some people but said it is believed that the risk of infection to patients in these areas of the hospital are much lower than the cardiac catheterization lab this outbreak has been tied to.
“We expect to find a lot less positive (results) than we have so far linked to this outbreak,” he said.
Montero said patients of the outpatient (same-day) surgery center are excluded from this testing population.
The patients that need to be tested will be receiving letters later this week.
To deal with the large number of people that need to be tested, special testing clinics will be set up at Exeter High School starting this weekend.
The clinics will take place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 28 and Sunday, July 29, and from noon to 8 p.m. next Monday and Tuesday, July 30 and 31.
Those who do not want to take part in the testing clinic can get tested by their primary doctors but those doctors must submit the positive results to the state for reporting, according to Montero.
A special public meeting will be held to answer additional questions at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 26 at Exeter High School.
Montero explained that the state will be using a special “rapid test” that displays results within 20 to 40 minutes if a patient tests negative. Those who don’t test negative, will require additional testing. He said the rapid testing is like a glucose reading where a person has their blood drawn by getting their finger pricked.
He said this method of testing wasn’t used in the last phase of testing involving Exeter Hospital cardiac catheterization lab patients. That is due to the fact that the state needed more comprehensive data from the blood samples at the beginning of its investigation.
Montero said there could be additional testing clinics down the road.
Last week David Kwiatkowski was charged with causing the outbreak. Kwiatkowski, 33, is a former technician at Exeter Hospital who was charged last week in connection with the hepatitis C outbreak that has infected at least 30 Exeter Hospital patients, prompting an investigation in multiple states where he worked.
In a statement, Exeter Hospital said Kwiatkowski’s access to the operating areas and ICU were limited.
“The OR and ICU are two areas that Kwiatkowski visited occasionally as part of his routine duties to transport patients but was not involved with procedures or patient care. Unlike previous testing that was managed by Exeter Hospital, this testing will be conducted by the DPHS (Division of Public Health Services) and will be announcing details later today,” the statement said.
The hospital emphasized that there is an “extremely small chance” that anyone treated in these areas will be found to have been infected with the hepatitis C linked to Kwiatkowski and the cardiac catheterization lab.
The hospital then went on to credit itself for its “speedy reporting of this threat to the appropriate state officials” leading to Kwiatkowski’s arrest and criticized other hospitals that Kwiatkowski worked at for not doing so sooner.
“We are saddened that those who reportedly discovered Kwiatkowski’s alleged drug diversion activities at other hospitals apparently failed to report them to law enforcement officials,” the statement said. “This inaction allegedly resulted in Kwiatkowski being able to secure employment in other hospitals around the country, including Exeter Hospital, resulting in this hepatitis C outbreak that has touched thousands of individuals across the New Hampshire Seacoast and beyond.”
Kwiatkowski worked at multiple hospitals across the country as a traveling technician and in 2008 was spotted lifting his shirt and dropping a syringe down his pants at the hospital he worked for at the time, according to a federal affidavit released last week. Three empty syringes bearing Fentanyl labels were found on him during a search, the affidavit said.
Authorities have said they are in contact with eight states where Kwiatkowski previously worked. States that have confirmed their involvement in the multi-state investigation into Kwiatkowski include New York, Maryland, Michigan, Kansas, Georgia and Arizona.
Attorneys that have been involved in the early lawsuits against Exeter Hospital say Tuesday’s announcement about the expanded testing open the hospital up to additional lawsuits.
“I’m already getting phone calls from clients that were at the hospital during that time frame,” said Portsmouth Attorney Michael Rainboth, who is representing four hepatitis C victims that have already filed suit.
Concord-based attorney Peter McGrath, who has filed for a class-action lawsuit against the hospital, said he expects there to be additional legal action from the 6,000 new patients that need to be tested.
“They all have a claim for infliction of emotional distress and negligence because they’re going to suffer pain and emotional distress as a result,” he said.
McGrath said his potential class-action lawsuit has grown to 92 people, which include people who have tested positive, negative or are awaiting their results. The suit has added Triage Staffing, Inc. of Omaha, Neb, the employment firm that placed Kwiatkowski at Exeter Hospital’s cardiac catheterization laboratory in March 2011, as a defendant in the case.