Exeter Hospital 'serial infector' pleads guilty, will serve at least 30 years behind bars
CONCORD — The former Exeter Hospital medical technician labeled a "serial infector" by prosecutors after infecting at least 46 people in three states with hepatitis C pleaded guilty Wednesday to 16 charges related to 33 New Hampshire infections and one in Kansas, where an elderly patient died.
David Kwiatkowski, 34, will serve at least 30 years under the plea agreement, but U.S. Attorney John Kacavas said prosecutors will argue for the maximum 40 years when he is sentenced Dec. 3 in U.S. District Court.
Kwiatkowski, sitting in drab gray-green Strafford County jail garb next to attorney Jonathan Saxe, politely answered Judge Joseph LaPlante's questions. He acknowledged he had alcohol and drug addictions, and said he is on medication after being recently diagnosed with depression. He said the medication did not affect his ability to enter guilty pleas to the charges and said he was doing so because they were all true.
According to the 23-page plea agreement, Kwiatkowski admitted to stealing Fentanyl-filled syringes intended to sedate patients, injecting himself with the drug and then refilling the empty syringe with saline. He put the syringes back and the unsuspecting patient was injected with the now hepatitis C-infected saline.
"It was all me," he told investigators when he was asked if anyone else at Exeter Hospital helped him divert the drugs. "...And I'm going to kill a lot of people out of his."
The agent asked, "I'm sorry?" Kwiatkowski replied, "I'm killing a lot of people."
Kacavas, at a news conference after the hearing, said Kwiatkowski's admissions are "too little, too late."
He said there were clear indications of problems with Kwiatkowski that were "simply ignored" by individuals in the health care system. Asked if hospitals or medical staffing agencies would be facing criminal charges, Kacavas said the investigation is continuing, that they "are looking elsewhere." Prosecutors' first priority was Kwiatkowski, the "culprit in this case," he said.
Attorney Mark Abramson of Manchester, who represents 13 of the Exeter Hospital patients, said his clients were pleased with what Kacavas and Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Farley accomplished. He said, however, the medical community should not be absolved of their actions and that prosecutors should go after them criminally.
According to the plea agreement, Kwiatkowski told investigators he had been stealing Fentanyl from hospitals since 2002. Between 2007 and 2011, he worked as a "traveler" through various placement agencies, taking jobs in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Arizona, Kansas, Georgia and New Hampshire.
He was fired in May 2008 from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center after an employee witnessed him remove a syringe of Fentanyl from an operating room and three empty Fentanyl syringes were found on him. Less than two weeks later, he was working at the VA Medical Center in Baltimore, where a patient who received Fentanyl during a procedure later contracted Hepatitis C, genetically linked to the strain he has.
Between July 2009 and January 2010, Kwiatkowski worked at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore; at least six patients were later diagnosed with his hepatitis C strain.
In March and April 2010, he was at the Arizona Heart Hospital in Phoenix, where he was found unresponsive in a restroom, a needle and syringe labeled '"Fentanyl" floating in a nearby toilet. In May 2010, he was working at Hay (Kans.) Medical Center when he was diagnosed with hepatitis C. At least six Hays patients were later diagnosed with the virus; one elderly patient died.
In April 2011, Kwiatkowski was hired at Exeter Hospital, where he worked until May 2012, when the hepatitis outbreak was discovered.
The plea agreement is a global settlement, meaning Kwiatkowski will face no other criminal charges in the other states.