Nurses transmitting Hepatitis C…

Instead of giving care to their patients, some healthcare workers are giving their patients Hepatitis C. I have recently been enlightened about this issue. I had briefly heard something a while ago about a nurse that had infected patients with Hepatitis C, but at the time I did not give it much thought. While doing some research for my blog, I have learned more. What I have learned has shocked and saddened me. The below links are a couple of stories, I will summarize them.

In 2004 Retired Army Capt. Jon Dale Jones, 45, was arrested in Miami on federal charges of assaulting three patients and possession of a controlled substance by fraud. A Virginia hospital asked more than 300 former patients to come in for blood tests because Jon Dale Jones worked there. At least 15 military service members or their relatives are believed to have been infected.

Court records show Jones tested positive for hepatitis C after the outbreak was discovered in October 2004. He was taken off the surgery unit but continued to work elsewhere at William Beaumont Army Medical Center as a civilian contract employee until June 2005. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked Jones to the outbreak about a month after he left the Virginia hospital, saying he and infected patients, they shared the same strain of hepatitis C. Jones then moved to Washington, D.C., where he was a nurse at Georgetown University in August 2005, remaining there until he was fired in late 2006. Jones next turned up in Florida, where in 2007 he opened his own anesthesiology business, Jones Anesthesia, LLC. He was living there when he was indicted on Feb. 27, 2008 by a federal grand jury in El Paso on the assault and drug charges. Jones received a 41 month sentence for his crimes.

In 2013 David Kwiatkowski was sentenced to 39 years in prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of tampering with a consumer product and seven counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud in New Hampshire. Kwiatkowski had infected 30 people with Hepatitis C. Kwiatkowski used stolen syringes to inject himself, causing them to become tainted with his infected blood. He then filled the syringes with saline and they were used in medical procedures. Before moving to New Hampshire, Kwiatkowski worked as a traveling medical technician for hospitals in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania. Kwiatkowski was fired from an Arizona hospital in 2010 after a fellow employee found him passed out in the men’s room with a syringe floating in the toilet. A spokeswoman for the Arizona Heart Hospital said Kwiatkowski was immediately fired, and he relinquished his license as a radiologic technologist. He continued to travel to different places around the country, stealing drugs and potentially infecting others. His crimes were not reported to other states so nobody knew, until in 2013 he was finally stopped.

How could this happen? Why was Jones’ license not immediately suspended when there was overwhelming evidence that he had committed those offenses? Why was this not communicated to other states? The Texas Department of State Health Services was notified that Jones tested positive for hepatitis C and it alerted the Texas Board of Nurses. It is not clear when they were notified. But, that is where the communication apparently ended. Same with Kwiatkowski, he traveled all over without any apparent communication at what was discovered about him. State boards are not required to report this type of investigation or to notify other states that there are pending charges. This is ridiculous. I certainly don’t advocate throwing nurses or other healthcare workers under the bus, so to speak, before they have the chance to defend their charges, but we must weigh the gravity of the offenses against disrupting the life of a nurse or other licensed professional. We must protect our patients. Jones was able to cross state lines and continue to work without restriction or monitoring, so was Kwiatkowski. How many more patients were put at risk? Did they magically lose their addictions? Did they get help for that addiction and stop diverting? Doubtful. I hope while incarcerated they get the treatment help they need.

After reading these two stories two thoughts come to mind: What if either of these healthcare workers had been required to undergo random urine drug screens? Would they have been discovered earlier? And what if states had a reporting forum so when someone was caught stealing drugs or drunk or high at work, there would be a place to keep that information so that it is available country wide? Maybe they would have been stopped early in their addiction and these tragedies would never have happened. Maybe if we change our thinking and require all healthcare workers who have access to controlled substances to be randomly drug tested we can avoid future tragedies.

The World Health Organization describes Hepatitis C as…

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus: the virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis infection, ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness.

The hepatitis C virus is a blood-borne virus and the most common modes of infection are through unsafe injection practices; inadequate sterilization of medical equipment; and the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products.

130–150 million people globally have chronic hepatitis C infection.

A significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Approximately 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases.

There are of course, other blood borne diseases that could be transmitted in a similar fashion. Until we change our attitudes about drug abuse by healthcare workers these types of stories will continue to happen, and more than likely they will grow in frequency. We must stop pretending they don’t exist. We must stop passing the buck when someone is discovered abusing drugs, they must be reported, not allowed to exit quietly only to take their problem to another hospital, clinic or other healthcare facility. We must do something together to try and make a difference. They need our help, patients need protection. I am willing to help but I can’t do it alone, what are you willing to do?

About the Author

Kristin Waite-Labott is a registered nurse and recovering addict who has firsthand experience with the challenges of addiction. She now works as the Head Nurse Coach at Veritus, a virtual treatment program for nurses with substance use and mental health disorders, and is dedicated to helping nurses overcome addiction and making a difference in the lives of others. Kristin is passionate about addressing the growing problem of addiction among healthcare professionals and encourages open discussions and action to prevent it from spreading further.

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