A traveling hospital technician accused of causing a multistate outbreak of hepatitis C last year pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal drug charges in New Hampshire under an agreement that calls for him to serve 30 to 40 years in prison.
The judge asked 34-year-old David Kwiatkowski why he wasn’t going to trial. “Because I’m guilty,” Kwiatkowski responded. He said he was addicted to drugs and alcohol and was recently diagnosed with depression, for which he is taking several medications.
Sentencing was set for Dec. 3 for Kwiatkowski, who pleaded guilty to 14 charges of drug theft and tampering. With his plea, Kwiatkowski will avoid criminal charges pertaining to patients outside New Hampshire. At least two dozen civil lawsuits related to his case are pending, most of them against Exeter Hospital, where he worked for 13 months.
Originally from Michigan, Kwiatkowski worked in 18 hospitals in seven states before being hired in New Hampshire in 2011. As a traveling hospital technician, he was assigned by staffing agencies to fill temporary openings around the country. Along the way, he contracted hepatitis C, and is accused of infecting others by stealing painkiller syringes and replacing them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood.
According to the plea agreement filed Monday, Kwiatkowski told investigators he had been stealing drugs since 2002 — the year before he finished his medical training — and that his actions were “killing a lot of people.” His lawyers have declined numerous interview requests.
Forty-six people in four states in hospitals where Kwiatkowski worked have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C he carries: 32 patients in New Hampshire, seven in Maryland, six in Kansas, and one in Pennsylvania. One of the Kansas patients died, and authorities say hepatitis C, which can cause liver disease and chronic health problems, played a contributing role.
In New Hampshire, some of the infected patients have suffered serious physical and emotional issues, according to the plea agreement. Among the seven whose experiences led to the 14 charges, one man hasn’t been able to work since developing hepatitis C, another has had trouble controlling his diabetes and sleeping at night and a third is afraid to kiss his wife on the lips, even though the blood-borne virus can’t be transmitted that way.
In most of those seven cases, Kwiatkowski was not assigned to assist with the procedures but hospital records showed him accessing the painkillers. In one case, he came in on his day off and insisted on staying even after being told he could go home. One patient remembers not feeling much different after receiving two doses of what was supposed to be a powerful painkiller.