BRENTWOOD — Exeter Hospital has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a former nurse who once lived with accused hepatitis C “serial infector” David Kwiatkowski and was fired from her job.
In a recent filing at Rockingham County Superior Court, the hospital denies that Kwiatkowski’s former roommate, Kerry Descoteau, was wrongfully terminated from her position as a nurse in the catheterization lab.
Descoteau claims she did nothing wrong after the hospital suggested she may have played a role in the hepatitis outbreak that infected 32 former patients.
Descoteau insists she wasn’t involved in the outbreak and that she should not have been fired.
According to the suit, Kwiatkowski, a medical technician who worked in the cardiac cath lab, lived with Descoteau in Exeter and worked with her at the hospital.
He was later fired after he was identified by federal authorities as the man accused of diverting drugs on the job and spreading hepatitis C. He was arrested in July 2012 and remains jailed on federal charges.
Kwiatkowski is suspected of stealing syringes filled with the painkiller fentanyl, using them on himself, and then replacing the dirty needles with saline to be used on patients.
According to her suit, Descoteau never suspected Kwiatkowski of drug diversion.
Descoteau claims that when she was hired she was trained in the hospital’s practices for “wasting” excess, unused narcotic medications and that the procedure was done while she was supervised.
The suit said Descoteau was questioned numerous times about the amount of fentanyl that she had wasted, but she insists that she was only following the procedure that she had been taught at the hospital.
Descoteau was questioned about the hepatitis C scare in June 2012 and later ordered to appear before a panel of hospital administrators and an independent investigator hired by the hospital, her suit said.
“Ms. Descoteau answered all of their questions truthfully, to the best of her ability. She explained that she had performed more cases than the other nurses in the catheterization lab because she was new to the position, and the supervisors were directing more cases to her as part of her training,” the suit said.
She was later reported to the state Board of Nursing and accused of professional misconduct based on her record of wasting narcotics.
The nursing board notified Descoteau in March that the complaint lodged by the hospital had been dismissed.
In its response to the suit, the hospital said the Board of Nursing dismissed her complaint “without prejudice to its ability to reopen the investigation” and denied that the board ever “cleared her of the charges” as she claimed in her suit.
In the termination letter, the suit said the hospital claimed it had “credible suspicion” that Descoteau “may have contributed” to the hepatitis outbreak, that a criminal investigation in which Descoteau was “materially involved” was pending, and that the firing was based on “considerable information about (her) practices involving controlled substances,” her “lack of candor in interviews with senior staff” and a “failure to respond to inquiries for information from Exeter Hospital counsel.”
Descoteau maintains that the hospital’s claims were false and misleading and argues she was “used as a scapegoat for a hospital that refused to recognize that Ms. Descoteau had done nothing wrong other than to follow the bad practices the hospital had required Ms. Descoteau to follow,” her suit said.
The hospital denies the “scapegoat” allegation and says the dismissal was not “motivated by bad faith, malice or retaliation.”The hospital maintains that it acted in good faith.
“Each action taken by the defendant with respect to the plaintiff was taken for a legitimate and non-retaliatory business purpose and was consistent with principles of law,” the hospital said in its response filed by its attorney, Debra Weiss-Ford of Jackson Lewis LLP.