New Hampshire requires medical workers to register after hepatitis C outbreak

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CONCORD, New Hampshire — Medical technicians are now required to register and hospitals will have to test employees if drug use is suspected, under two state laws signed Wednesday by Gov. Maggie Hassan in response to a traveling technician who stole drugs and infected dozens of patients with hepatitis C.

Rep. Tom Sherman, who's also a doctor, was a co-sponsor of the bills in response to the case of David Kwiatkowski, who is serving 39 years in prison for stealing painkillers from Exeter Hospital and replacing them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood.

There is still no nationwide database of misconduct or disciplinary actions against technicians, as there is for physicians. New Hampshire has taken the lead in monitoring the technicians. While some states require certain technicians to be licensed, four of the states where Kwiatkowski worked, including New Hampshire, do not license any of them.

"The goal of the registry is to close the final gap in patient protections in the settings of controlled substances," Sherman said Wednesday. "The federal attorney prosecuting the case has estimated that this single medical technician put 8,000 patients at risk nationwide."

Under the bill, a board will register health care workers who are not otherwise already licensed or registered and who have access to both drugs and patients. Hospitals would be required to report disciplinary actions to the board, which could perform its own investigations of wrongdoing.

Since Kwiatkowski's arrest in July 2012, 46 people in New Hampshire, Maryland, Kansas and Pennsylvania have been diagnosed with the same strain of the hepatitis C virus he carries, and authorities say the disease played a role in one woman's death. Kwiatkowski also worked in Michigan, New York, Arizona and Georgia.

"Our most important responsibility as a state is public safety," said Hassan. "Our citizens can't do anything whether it's run a business, or go to school or raise their families if we can't provide a safe environment for them to do that in. So these bills are an incredibly important step."

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