- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Other states are eager to follow New Hampshire’s lead in monitoring medical technicians like the one who stole drugs from Exeter Hospital and infected patients with hepatitis C, but the state can still do more to prevent future problems, according to a lawmaker who is planning additional legislation.

Rep. Tom Sherman told a Senate committee Wednesday that he hopes to file another bill next session to complement two the House already has passed in response to David Kwiatkowski. Kwiatkowski is serving 39 years in prison for stealing painkillers and replacing them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood.

One bill currently before the Senate would require health care facilities to develop and implement drug-free workplace policies and to test employees for drugs if there is a reasonable suspicion of drug use. The other, which had a public hearing Wednesday, would create a board to register health care workers who are not otherwise already licensed or registered and who have access to both drugs and patients. Hospitals would be required to report disciplinary actions to the board, which could perform its own investigations of wrongdoing.

Medical technicians are not as closely regulated as doctors or nurses, and there is no nationwide database of misconduct or disciplinary actions against them, as there is for physicians. While some states require certain technicians to be licensed, four of the states where Kwiatkowski worked, including New Hampshire, do not license any of them.

“If we don’t do something about it, there will be another Exeter Hospital fiasco,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Timothy Copeland, R-Stratham. “This will alleviate some of the issues. Not all of them, but … it happened here in New Hampshire, and we’d like to show we’re doing something, that we’re here to protect patients.”

Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, suggested that requiring hospitals to perform random drug testing of employees would do more to prevent drug diversion than “setting up a gigantic registry,” but Sherman said a multi-pronged approach is more effective. He said if the registry bill passes, other states want to use New Hampshire’s measure as a template for state and federal legislation.

Sherman, a co-sponsor of both bills, said he also wants to draft legislation that provides immunity for hospitals that share information about employee misconduct. Kwiatkowski had worked as a cardiac technologist in seven states before being hired in New Hampshire in 2011, despite being fired numerous times over drug allegations.

Sherman, a Democrat from Rye who also is a gastroenterologist, helped discover the Exeter Hospital outbreak in 2012, when he and another doctor in his practice realized they each had a patient infected with hepatitis C and alerted the hospital. That would not have happened in a larger hospital where patients would see doctors in different physician groups, he said.

“It was just luck,” he said. “It was the structure of the group that brought this together, and that’s just too much left to chance.”

Since Kwiatkowski’s arrest in July 2012, 46 people in New Hampshire, Maryland, Kansas and Pennsylvania have been diagnosed with the same strain of the hepatitis C virus he carries, and authorities say the disease played a role in one woman’s death. Kwiatkowski also worked in Michigan, New York, Arizona and Georgia.

State Sen. Sam Cataldo, who sits on the committee that held Wednesday’s hearing, said his mother-in-law is among the New Hampshire victims. Her doctors have said her body has since cleared itself of the disease, and she is now in good health, said Cataldo, R-Farmington.

“If a system like this had been implemented across the country, (Kwiatkowski) would’ve been stopped before he got here,” he said.

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