Privacy Law

NH Asks Judge for Broad Access to Hospital Patient Records, Seeking Full Info re Hepatitis Outbreak

In an ongoing effort to determine how many patients at a New Hampshire medical center may allegedly have been infected by a rogue medical technician with hepatitis C, an assistant state attorney general has asked a Merrimack Superior Court judge to order Exeter Hospital to provide broad access to patient medical records.

The state has already tested 4,700 patients for exposure to the contagious disease and is seeking more information about some of those individuals, Assistant Attorney General Jeanne Herrick told Judge Richard McNamara during a Wednesday hearing, reports the Exeter News-Letter.

So far, 32 patients of the hospital have reportedly tested positive for the same strain of hepatitis C diagnosed in David Kwiatkowski, a former contract worker at the hospital who is accused of passing the virus to them. Kwiatkowski, who has been criminally charged, is accused of injecting himself with syringes of the anesthetic fentanyl, then, in an apparent effort to conceal his alleged thefts of the drug, filling the infected syringes with water or a similar substance and allowing them to be reused on patients.

Asked by the judge why the state department of health and human services couldn’t just give the hospital a list of patients for which it wants more information, Herrick said the state doesn’t trust the hospital, the newspaper article recounts.

“We’re concerned those records wouldn’t appear in the same way they otherwise would’ve appeared,” Herrick told the judge, adding that Exeter Hospital is a business and has “good business reasons” for not wanting to expand the investigation.

Attorney Scott O’Connell, who represents the hospital, called this suggestion “outrageous.”

He also said that the hospital, by seeking to limit the state’s access, is fulfilling its obligation under federal law to protect patient privacy, reports the New Hampshire Union-Leader.

“Under federal law, the state is only entitled to the minimum amount of information needed to do its investigation, and the state wants access to everything. It has not made any effort to be discrete,” said O’Connell. “Mr. Kwiatkowski worked at the hospital between May 2011 and May 2012. At a minimum it should limit its request to that time period. And they need to tell us the names of the patients whose records they want to review.”.

The judge hasn’t yet ruled, but indicated during the hearing that he might grant the state more limited access to patient medical records than it is seeking.

The hospital is facing over two dozen civil suits, including a class action, in Rockingham Superior Court over Kwiatkowski’s alleged infection of patients with hepatitis C.

Additional and related coverage: “Medical Technician Is Criminally Charged in Hospital Hepatitis C Outbreak” “As 8 States Probe Possible Hepatitis Outbreak, Some Wonder Why Hospitals Didn’t Report Problem Tech” “Hospital Tech Criminally Charged in Hepatitis Case Worked at 10 Jobs in 4 Years Despite Drug Issues”

Foster’s Daily Democrat: “Exeter Hospital wants freeze on legal discoveries in hep c outbreak”

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