Hospital tech who worked at Warner Robins hospital pleads guilty in hepatitis C outbreak

Associated PressAugust 14, 2013 

New Hampshire Year in Review

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Hampshire shows David Kwiatkowski, a former lab technician at Exeter, N.H., Hospital. Kwiatkowski, accused of infecting dozens of patients with hepatitis C through tainted needles, told investigators he had been stealing drugs for more than a decade and was "killing a lot of people," according to a plea agreement filed Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, that would send him to prison for 30 to 40 years. (AP Photo/U.S. Attorney's Office, File)

UNCREDITED — AP

CONCORD, N.H. -- A traveling hospital technician accused of infecting patients in multiple states with hepatitis C through tainted syringes pleaded guilty Wednesday in New Hampshire to 16 federal drug charges under an agreement that calls for him to serve 30 to 40 years in prison.

Judge Joseph Laplante asked David Kwiatkowski, 34, why he wasn’t going to trial. “Because I’m guilty,” Kwiatkowski responded.

Kwiatkowski pleaded guilty to 14 charges of drug theft and tampering in New Hampshire, along with two similar counts in Kansas, although he was never formally charged there. Sentencing was set for Dec. 3, at which time the judge could impose a different sentence.

Before he was hired by New Hampshire’s Exeter Hospital in 2011, Kwiatkowski worked as a cardiac technologist in 18 hospitals in seven states, moving from job to job despite being fired at least four times over allegations of drug use and theft.

Kwiatkowski worked as a contract employee from Oct. 25, 2010, to March 17, 2011, at Houston Medical Center in Warner Robins. Local officials alerted hundreds of Houston Medical Center patients in 2012 who were treated while he worked there in the heart catheterization lab, suggesting they be tested for the life-threatening infection.

Nancy Nydam, media relations manager for the Georgia Department of Public Health, said Wednesday that none of the Houston patients tested positive for the strain connected to Kwiatkowski.

Houston Healthcare released a statement in 2012 stating that Kwiatkowski did not have access to the medication system at Houston Medical Center.

Forty-six people in four states have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C Kwiatkowski carries and is accused of spreading by replacing stolen painkiller syringes with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood. Thirty-two patients were infected in New Hampshire, seven in Maryland, six in Kansas and one in Pennsylvania. Kwiatkowski also worked in Michigan, New York, and Arizona.

One of the Kansas patients died, and authorities say hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that can cause liver disease and chronic health problems, played a contributing role. The charges Kwiatkowski admitted to in Kansas stem from the patient who died, and many of the other patients have experienced serious medical problems, U.S. Attorney John Kacavas said.

“Tragically, the defendant’s admissions of guilt today are too little, too late for those victims,” he said. “There were many warning signs, there were many stop signs, there were many red lights along that road that were simply ignored by the defendant himself, a health care worker, by other individuals and entities in the health care industry.”

Telegraph staff writer Wayne Crenshaw contributed to this report. Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.

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