License suspensions rise for N.H. medical professionals after Exeter Hospital drug diversion scandal
In the wake of revelations last year that a medical technician at Exeter Hospital stole syringes of pain medication and returned them to supply closets tainted with his own infected blood, New Hampshire’s medical licensing boards are disciplining more health care workers accused of drug diversions or working while impaired.
That’s especially true for the Board of Nursing: In 2011, the board issued only one emergency suspension. Last year, and this year so far, 14 nurses or licensed nursing assistants have lost their license to practice.
The official reason for each suspension wasn’t immediately available, but Denise Nies, executive director of the board, said the number of suspensions related to drug diversion or abuse has increased since she took the position in early 2012.
The increase in emergency suspensions is due to heightened awareness in hospitals, offices and pharmacies across the state, and faster and firmer action by regulators.
The state attorney general’s office asked licensing boards to expedite accusations of drug diversion for emergency hearings, which “changed our priority of the way we’re looking at cases,” Nies said.
“Before this, if someone diverted, they would be prioritized anyway, but this takes and solidifies the process to make sure that everybody is doing it consistently,” she said.
The Board of Pharmacy has also dramatically increased its emergency suspensions, from none in 2011 to eight in 2012 and seven so far this year.
Before 2012, the board worked with pharmacists to negotiate voluntary surrenders of licenses when drug diversion or abuse was suspected, said Executive Director Jay Queenan.
“An emergency suspension is quicker,” he said. “The whole goal is to get the person who is impaired not practicing, with an eye to public safety.
“Is it a little more work? Yeah. But because it increases the speed at which things get done and increases the information to the public, I think it’s worth it.”
Though cases are being heard more quickly, the standards for suspending a license haven’t changed, said Senior Assistant Attorney General James Boffetti, who oversees the administrative prosecution unit in the Consumer Protection Bureau.
Once an accusation is made, the board alerts Boffetti’s office, where an attorney will investigate the case.
If evidence supports the accusation, it’s brought to the board in an emergency meeting for a vote on the proposed suspension.
A second hearing is held within 10 days where the licensee can contest the accusation.
Suspensions have increased because more people are reporting suspicious behavior to the boards, he said.
“Since the Exeter situation, there’s been much more significant awareness of this issue. We get more cases that come to us than we would have before, and we take those cases very seriously,” he said.
David Kwiatkowski was a medical technician, a position that does not require a license, when he arrived at Exeter Hospital in 2011 after working in several other states, moving frequently to obscure his history of drug theft and working while impaired.
He pleaded guilty in federal court in August to injecting himself with syringes of pain medication, then replacing the needles in a supply closet, exposing hundreds of patients in hospitals in Kansas, Maryland and New Hampshire to his strain of hepatitis C. At least 45 people were infected, and one has died of causes related to the infection.
Kwiatkowski agreed to serve between 30 and 40 years in prison. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)