Hepatitis C Victims Consider Class Action Lawsuit Against New Hampshire Hospital

Hepatitis C victims are considering a class action lawsuit against a New Hampshire hospital following an outbreak there that was linked to a former medical technician.

One attorney seeking the class action against Exeter Hospital said that his client list includes 169 people; 11 have tested positive for the dangerous virus, said The New Hampshire Union Leader. All of the patients described the anxiety and fear associated with waiting for word on whether their exposure to the virus caused them to contract the sometimes-fatal virus. The attorney told The Union Leader that many of his clients have had to undergo counseling and other treatments; some suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The state Department of Health and Human Services linked 32 cases to Exeter Hospital where the disease has been associated to the actions of one lab technician. Hepatitis C is a viral liver disease that can cause inflammation of the liver and can lead to chronic liver disease, such as cirrhosis, or cancer, of the liver. The virus is spread by contact with infected body fluids; no vaccine exists for hepatitis C, which can be fatal.

We previously wrote that a Kansas woman alleged she became infected with the disease because of a former lab technician accused of stealing drugs. Linda Ficken filed the lawsuit against the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), saying the facility was negligent for not telling law enforcement or any government agency that its technician, David Kwiatkowski, allegedly stole and used narcotics in 2008. Kwiatkowski worked at a number of other hospitals, including a facility in Kansas, where Ficken was treated in 2010 and Exeter Hospital.

We recently wrote that Kwiatkowski was charged in the hepatitis C outbreak linked to Exeter Hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Unit. Dozens of patients there were infected with the dangerous virus, which led to an investigation by state health regulators initiated at Exeter Hospital in June. Former hospital technician, Kwiatkowski, 33, was accused of stealing drugs from the lab and infecting 31 patients with contaminated syringes. Kwiatkowski, who is also infected, was a traveling medical technician, having worked in at least 18 hospitals in eight states. Fired on May 25, Kwiatkowski faces a 20-year prison sentence for drug tampering and up to four years for the controlled substance charge.

Some patients remain unaware of their status pending results and additional rounds of testing, including one mother whose five-year-old daughter was exposed. “This is scary. It’s affecting everybody,” she said, wrote the Union Leader “The unknown is worse than anything else.” The little girl was treated at the Exeter emergency room following an accident at school almost one year ago; she was injected with the same painkiller Kwiatkowski is accused of stealing. Although she tested negative for the virus this summer, hepatitis C can take up to six months before it is detected, and she has to undergo more tests in the future.

Another patient, 49, involved in the action went to Exeter for heart surgery last August; Kwiatkowski was employed at the hospital’s cardiac catheterization lab at the time. The patient said he tested positive this summer for the same strain as Kwiatkowski and noted that, due to his heart condition, treatment options are limited. “It’s not nice. You’re like on a mental roller coaster from one day to the next. Depression has definitely kicked in like I’ve never seen before,” he said. “It doesn’t get any easier no matter which way you turn.”

In response to the attorney’s actions, Exeter Hospital released a statement saying it was surprised. “We don’t know the specific situation with these two unnamed patients, but our hearts go out to them and to all of those impacted by the alleged criminal behavior of former technician David Kwiatkowski,” the statement said. “Exeter Hospital stands ready to provide care to each of them, as we have since this tragic situation came to light.”

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