Hep C 'serial infector' case highlights need for state, national technician regulation

Movement toward a nationwide database for medical technicians' misconduct and disciplinary actions may be on the horizon in the wake of the case of "serial infector" David Kwiatkowski, who intentionally infected at least 46 people with the hepatitis C virus and exposed thousands more, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

Medical technicians don't follow strict regulations like doctors and nurses, and some states don't even require them to hold licenses. However, hospitals and staffing agencies share the responsibility of ensuring workers have good reputations, as well as licenses in states that do require it, according to the article.

Kwiatkowski was a traveling technician who injected himself with fentanyl, then used the tainted syringes to treat patients, infecting people from New Hampshire, Maryland, Kansas and Pennsylvania. He also worked in Michigan, New York, Arizona and Georgia, where more than 12,000 patients had to get tested for the disease after he was caught in 2012 while working at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire.

Despite multiple incidents, firings and allegations prior to his stint at Exeter, he continued to get jobs at hospitals throughout the country. Kwiatkowski tested positive for controlled substances at one hospital and was fired for "gross misconduct" at another hospital in Michigan. He also falsely obtained a radiographer certification and Maryland license, and was caught in possession of empty syringes bearing fentanyl labels at UPMC Presbyterian, affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

"This defendant exploited critical gaps in reporting requirements to law enforcement, licensing authorities and the staffing agencies that place them throughout the country," U.S. Attorney John Kacavas, who prosecuted Kwiatkowski, told the Star Tribune, recommending tighter regulations in healthcare worker hiring and management process.

After the incident, Maryland passed a bill that requires staffing agencies that find jobs for healthcare workers to obtain licenses, while the state's public health department asked that the state Board of Physicians review procedures for licensing healthcare professionals, according to the article.

The hepatitis C outbreak prompted the New Hampshire legislature to propose a bill to create a licensing system for medical technicians, along with a registry other states could search, according to the Star Tribune. Another bill would require hospitals to test employees if there was reasonable suspicion of drug use, which Joseph Perz, who specializes in injection safety and infection control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said will help determine if patients were put at risk.

Earlier this month a federal judge in New Hampshire sentenced Kwiatkowski to 39 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 14 counts of federal drug theft and tampering charges, FierceHealthcare previously reported.  

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- here's the article