When it comes to passing legislation, the amount of support you can get will determine success or failure. Many would want to see the necessity of having such legislation or it will be put on hold for another time. That seemed to be the case regarding legislation concerning Hepatitis C until a case of a medical technologist suspected of infecting patients with the disease might provide the boost it needs to pass.
Back in July of this year, David Kwiakowski, a former medical technician at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire, was arrested and is accused of contaminating syringes used on patients and stealing drugs from the hospital. There are 32 people from the hospital that have been told they have the same Hepatitis C strain that Kwiakowski has. If this wasn’t bad enough, Kwiakowski worked previously at 18 hospitals in seven other states. He moved from hospital to hospital, even though it turned out that he was fired twice over suspicions of using drugs and theft. This case has not only sparked outrage among politicians but could be used to boost momentum for a piece of federal legislation that would require radiation therapy and medical imaging workers to meet standards before their employers receive Medicare reimbursements.
The Associated Press detailed how Kwiakowski was able to slip through the cracks and not get caught sooner. The story detailed how he accomplished this because of lack of regulation, his own lies and through poor communication. One day after the story became public, U.S. Rep. John Barrow, a Georgia Democrat and lead sponsor of the legislation, commented by saying it was “Unbelievable. That’s what happens when you have incredibly important, sophisticated work being done by folks who don’t have to be trained or certified or qualified to do it.”
It seems that Kwiakowski worked as a cardiovascular technologist and is one of many specialized positions within a broader profession. South Dakota, North Carolina, Missouri, Idaho, and Alabama are the only states that have no regulation. The other 45 states regulate at least one type of job involving radiation therapy or medical imaging, according to the American Society of Radiologic Technologists. Washington, D.C. also has no regulation. The organization has been trying for years for the creation of a federal law that would have the Department of Health and Human Services come up with uniform standards that hospitals would have to comply with if they would want to receive Medicare payments.
As of June, the latest version was introduced by Senators Tom Harkin, Democrat from Iowa, and Mike Enzi, Republican from Wyoming. Barrow, it turns out, is one of 130 co-sponsors on the House side.
The lack of support needed to pass the legislation can be frustrating and though Kwiakowski’s case is one that no one wishes had happened, it may take something like this to enter the public arena before enough support is gained. Christine Lung, the society’s vice president of government relations, said, “This is an issue that just hasn’t floated up into national prominence or attention. I think it’s going to take situations like Mr. Kwiatkowski … to really make the public sit up and take notice.”
Besides the public taking notice, some politicians need to take ownership and not “pass the buck” elsewhere. For example, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte said she would consider carefully any legislation that might resolve this issue; however, the responsibility should remain within the hospitals. “The responsibility to help prevent such incidents ultimately rests with hospitals, which should conduct stringent background checks on potential employees and maintain strict oversight of narcotics and equipment.”
Then there is the opinion of John Billings, chief of staff to Republican Rep. Charles Bass, who feels that “while medical licensing laws and regulations have traditionally been developed at the state level, Congress has an important oversight role in ensuring patient safety across the nation.” Hopefully, David Kwiatkowski’s case can help give enough of a boost to have legislation passed that will help prevent something like this from ever happening again.
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus. The disease varies from not being as severe to extremely serious. For example, a mild illness might last a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected.
Today, infection is usually spread by either sharing needles or other equipment that is used to inject drugs. There is no cure for the virus and the best way to avoid getting Hepatitis C is to avoid types of behaviors that would spread the disease, especially drug use through injections.