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Former UPMC staffer to get at least 30 years in plea deal for spreading hepatitis C

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By Adam Smeltz
Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, 11:33 p.m.
 

A former hospital technician accused of spreading hepatitis for years after he left UPMC deserves much more than the 30-year minimum sentence included in a plea agreement this week, a Downtown-based lawyer said.

“He knew what he was doing. He even said in one interview that he was stealing drugs for more than a decade and was killing a lot of people,” said Brendan Lupetin, an attorney in one of two class actions claiming negligence by UPMC in hiring and supervising the technician. “Yes, I think it deserves a greater sentence.”

David Kwiatkowski, whom UPMC fired in May 2008, could have received nearly 100 years in prison if convicted in a trial. Federal prosecutors said he infected dozens of patients with hepatitis C across three states, long after he left Pittsburgh, by stealing hospital drugs and replacing them with solutions tainted with his blood.

UPMC has contested the class-action lawsuits. The health system fired Kwiatkowski 47 days after he started as a contract employee on suspicion of stealing narcotics.

Neither federal prosecutors in New Hampshire, where Kwiatkowski is jailed, nor his lawyers commented on Tuesday. But their tentative plea agreement shows two Michigan hospitals dismissed Kwiatkowski in 2004, and he resigned from two others before he became a temporary worker moving from hospital to hospital.

He admitted to investigators that he knew he was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2010, according to the agreement. Yet he continued to steal syringes of the painkiller fentanyl at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire and replace them with contaminated saline, the agreement shows.

About 2,000 UPMC Presbyterian patients received letters last fall advising them to get hepatitis C tests because of possible exposure through Kwiatkowski. Of at least 840 who sought the test, no one had a strain of hepatitis C confirmed to match his, according to the hospital system.

Although UPMC did not report him to police at the time, spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said, it did alert the state Attorney General's Office, which investigates diversions of prescription drugs for recreational use.

The Attorney General's Office could not be reached for comment. UPMC did not comment further on the court developments.

Kwiatkowski went from UPMC to other hospital jobs in Baltimore and upstate New York, then began work in New Hampshire in 2011. Thirty-two patients there have been diagnosed with the hepatitis strain he carries. Thirteen other cases turned up in Maryland and Kansas, where Kwiatkowski worked in hospitals.

A hearing on his plea agreement is scheduled for Wednesday, more than a year after his arrest in July 2012. Court paperwork shows he would plead guilty to 14 federal charges of drug theft and tampering in exchange for a 30- to 40-year sentence. A full conviction at trial could produce a sentence of up to 98 years.

Linda Ficken, 71, of Andover, Kan., said she's happy with the guilty plea but wishes the sentence were longer. She is among those Kwiatkowski is accused of infecting.

“It should've been life since he gave us potentially a death sentence,” Ficken said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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