By Andrea K. Walker, The Baltimore Sun
7:00 PM CDT, September 4, 2012
A patient believed to have contracted hepatitis C from a rogue medical worker has sued Columbia-based Maxim Staffing Solutions Inc. for failing to report the traveling technician to legal authorities even though the company knew he had stolen narcotics and put patients at risk.
The lawsuit, filed by Kansas resident Linda Ficken and her husband, William, says that Maxim was one of three medical institutions that enabled worker David Kwiatkowski's illicit behavior. The institutions' inaction allowed him to repeat his behavior for four more years at hospitals around the country, where he came in contact with thousands of patients, the lawsuit claims.
Kwiatkowski was arrested in New Hampshire in July after authorities said he injected himself with stolen narcotics-filled syringes and left the contaminated needles, filled with saline, to be used on other patients. Kwiatkowski was charged with federal drug crimes and investigators believe he may have had hepatitis C since at least June 2010.
Kwiatkowski has pleaded not guilty.
Staffing agency Maxim hired Kwiatkowski in 2008 to work as a radiology technician at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh.
A few weeks into the job, Kwiatkowski was spotted by a co-worker taking a syringe filled with narcotics and stuffing it down his pants, according to documents filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pa. More syringes were found in his locker and pockets, prompting hospital officials to give Kwiatkowski a urine drug test. The test found the painkiller fentanyl and morphine in Kwiatkowski's system, according to the court documents.
UPMC Presbyterian, which is also being sued by the Fickens, turned the case over to Maxim, but did not report Kwiatkowski to legal authorities, the lawsuit claims. Maxim fired Kwiatkowski but also did not report him, according to the lawsuit.
"Maxim was told everything that UPMC Presbyterian knew and didn't do the right thing," said Lynn R. Johnson, a attorney with Shambert, Johnson & Bergman who is representing the Fickens.
Officials with UPMC Presbyterian and Maxim declined to comment about the case. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti co-founded Maxim Healthcare Services, the parent of Maxim Staffing Solutions, but according to the company he's now a minority shareholder, does not hold any office or position with Maxim and is not involved in the company's operations.
A second staffing agency, Medical Solutions LLC, of Omaha, Neb., later hired Kwiatkowski to work at Hays Medical Center in Kansas, where Linda Ficken, who is now 70, came into contact with Kwiatkowski while receiving a heart catheterization in 2010. She tested positive for hepatitis C earlier this year after being contacted by the hospital. The lawsuit accuses Medical Solutions of failing to perform the correct background checks on Kwiatkowski.
Officials with Medical Solutions did not return calls for comment.
"I am very angry at the whole situation and the extent that this guy was allowed to slip through the cracks and continue to do this," Linda Ficken said in a phone interview Tuesday. "He should have been caught a long time ago."
After leaving UPMC Presbyterian, Kwiatkowski worked at 10 hospitals in eight states from 2008 to 2012. In Maryland, Kwiatkowski is known to have worked at four hospitals: the Baltimore VA Medical Center from May 2008 to November 2008; Southern Maryland Hospital from December 2008 to February 2009; Johns Hopkins Hospital from July 2009 to January 2010; and Maryland General Hospital from January 2010 to March 2010.
The Maryland hospitals are in the process of testing at least 1,750 patients who may have been exposed to the viral disease, even though there is no evidence Kwiatkowski had hepatitis C or stole drugs while working in Maryland.
State health officials are looking at the possible need for better control over access to narcotics in hospitals. They are also reviewing whether changes should be made in how medical contract workers are regulated.
At Johns Hopkins Hospital, nearly 700 patients have been tested, and three have tested positive for the same genotype or similar strain of the virus as the technologist, which means the cases may be related, according to a statement from the hospital.
Maryland General said 23 patients might have had contact with Kwiatkowski and no one has tested positive for hepatitis C. The Baltimore VA, which is testing at least 51 patients, is not releasing results until everyone is tested and notified.
One legal scholar said that staffing agencies are typically responsible for contract workers unless a judge or jury can prove the hospital had enough knowledge that a worker was negligent.
"The more control you have over someone, the more liability you have," said Greg Dolin, co-director of the Center for Medicine and Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law.