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January 02. 2013 11:46PM

Exeter Hospital may file lawsuits of its own

EXETER - Exeter Hospital is preparing to defend itself against a pile of lawsuits in the wake of the hepatitis C outbreak but may also be planning legal action of its own.

Boston attorney William Dailey Jr. has been hired by the hospital to assist in coordinating its defense and to help identify the agencies and others who allowed accused "serial infector" David Kwiatkowski to bounce from one hospital to the next as a traveling medical technician even after he was allegedly caught stealing drug-filled syringes elsewhere.

"Exeter Hospital is interested in having the responsibility placed where it should be placed," said Dailey, a senior partner at the law firm Sloane and Walsh.

The hospital has been hit with more than two-dozen lawsuits brought by former patients, some of whom say they were infected with hepatitis C by the 33-year-old Kwiatkowski, who is accused of stealing syringes filled with the painkiller fentanyl and then replacing the dirty needles with a saline for use on patients.

Some 32 Exeter patients were diagnosed with Kwiatkowski's strain of hepatitis along with a dozen more from hospitals in other states where he worked before he was arrested.

Many of the lawsuits accuse the hospital of medical negligence and other failures that allegedly allowed Kwiatkowski to engage in drug diversion while working in Exeter. However, other defendants named in the suits include Triage Staffing Inc., a Nebraska firm that hired Kwiatkowski and placed him in Exeter Hospital; the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists; and American Healthcare Services Association, which had a contract with Triage Staffing allowing Kwiatkowski to be placed at the hospital, court documents said.

Before being hired in Exeter in 2011, Kwiatkowski was fired from his contract job as a radiology technician at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh in 2008 after he was allegedly caught stealing and using drugs. But he continued to get other jobs through medical staffing agencies and in 2010 was fired again while working as a radiation technician at Arizona Heart Hospital in Phoenix. The hospital said he was found in the facility's men's locker room "unresponsive" and in possession of syringes and needles. A drug test revealed that he had cocaine and marijuana in his system, the hospital has said.

Kwiatkowski worked at as many as 18 hospitals before Exeter Hospital discovered a link between hepatitis C cases discovered there last May during his employment. He was arrested in July on federal charges.

"Exeter Hospital was the first to raise public attention to what was going on," Dailey said, adding that Kwiatkowski never should have been allowed to be hired elsewhere "after other agencies had knowledge he was diverting drugs."

At this point, the hospital hasn't taken legal action against other agencies that allowed Kwiatkowski to continue finding jobs despite his track record, but Dailey isn't ruling that out.

"That certainly is a possibility, if not a probability, as time goes on," he said.

A structuring conference on the civil suits is scheduled for Jan. 18 in Rockingham County Superior Court. A judge in October halted discovery in the cases until this month.

Discovery is a period of time when depositions can be taken and other documents gathered to prepare for trial.

Dailey said the discovery phase will likely begin after the hearing later this month.

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Jason Schreiber may be reached at jschreiber@newstote.com.


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