It is a common and mostly accurate perception of the American public that hospitals are in the business of protecting their patients’ health and saving lives. Newsweek’s recent cover story, “Hospital Horror Story,” turns that perception upside down.
The article tells the story of David Kwiatkowski, a radiology technician at the center of one of the largest public health crises that this country has known in the modern age. Kwiatkowski was a traveling radiology technician and drug addict who, as the article reveals, used his position at various hospitals across the country to gain access to opiates. Kwiatkowski had developed a scheme in which he would steal vials of opiates and other drugs from patient’s operating tables before procedures. He would then inject himself with those drugs, remove the needles, flush out the syringe, fill them with saline, and put the used syringes back on the operating table to be used on the patient. If it wasn’t bad enough that the patients were not getting the drugs they needed during the procedure, Kwiatkowski was infected with Hepatitis C and was putting these patients at risk for infection. His scheme, according to the article, resulted in the infection of 45 patients and the death of 1 patient.
It is virtually impossible to defend the actions of Kwiatkowski. What is surprising and saddening is that multiple hospitals that Kwiatkowski worked at as a traveling technician, and several travel employment agencies that employed Kwiatkowski seemingly had evidence of his addiction and his use of drugs on the job. At two hospitals, Kwiatkowski was essentially caught red-handed. On one occasion, he was found on the floor of the hospital bathroom, paralyzed after swiping, then injecting the wrong drug. Another time, he was seen by a nurse taking drugs and placing them in his pants. As the article reveals, however, neither hospital took action that would have resulted in future employers and future hospitals knowing of his past, thus potentially preventing future infections. The only voice that spoke up was a single travel employment agency whose complaint fell on deaf ears.
It appears that the hospitals were more concerned about facing an employment-related lawsuit from the drug addicted radiology technician then they were about protecting the innocent and unsuspecting patients that might come in contact with him in the future.
Kwiatkowski is currently serving a 39 year sentence in federal prison. The article does not state whether any of the hospitals or travel employment agencies have been the target of any criminal probe, much less accepted any responsibility. It appears, however, that at least some of the patients have gone to the last resort and hired personal injury lawyers to hold those responsible.