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June 21. 2013 9:37PM

Exeter Hospital CEO challenges state's hepatitis C report

CONCORD — The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services has issued a detailed report on the hepatitis C outbreak and the public scare that followed last summer, recommending expanded regulation and oversight on health care employees and access to controlled substances.

The 179-page document released Friday details the initial report from Exeter Hospital last May that four patients had been diagnosed with the virus, which authorities traced back to a former hospital lab worker accused of injecting himself with narcotics and infecting patients with the contaminated needles.

While the Division of Public Health Services labeled it the "final" report, it is not done with the matter. Exeter Hospital president and CEO Kevin J. Callahan quickly responded Friday with a letter directly to state public health director Dr. Jose Montero, challenging the state's findings and describing the report as an unfair representation.

DPHS concluded 33 cases, 32 of them patients, resulted from drug diversion by an infected employee working at the hospital. The investigation and public health scare spread to other states where David Kwiatkowski had worked as a traveling technician.

Prosecutors say Kwiatkowski knew he was infected with hepatitis C since at least June 2010. He worked at the hospital from April 2011 through May 2012. Kwiatkowski is under federal indictment on seven counts of tampering with a consumer product and fraudulently obtaining controlled substances.

The health department released the report Friday with comments from state epidemiologist Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis.

"The quality of healthcare in New Hampshire is among the best in the country and the criminal actions of one individual and are not reflective of the system as a whole," Alroy-Preis said. "They do, however, demonstrate that the system is not perfect and requires both healthcare and public health to remain vigilant for ways to improve patient care."

The state's recommendations include increasing regulations on travelling healthcare workers and improving how information is shared from state to state.

It also recommends closer monitoring of employees with access to powerful narcotics and more detailed accounting of controlled substances before and after medical procedures.

Callahan said the hospital has already implemented new policies to secure medication in his letter to Montero, which noted several parts of the report the hospital felt were misleading or wrong.

"Many of the statements and conclusions contained in the report are demonstrably false and in conflict with publicly available information and the mountains of data we provided to your team," Callahan wrote in the letter, which was released by the hospital.

DHPS has scheduled a community meeting to share the report and take questions from the public Monday at 6 p.m. at Exeter High School.

dalden@unionleader.com


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