AP State News Reports: Arrest reveals medical technicians are poorly regulated

Aug. 22, 2012
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In this memo to AP staff, Managing Editor for State News, Financial News and Global Training Kristin Gazlay recounts how a reporter in New Hampshire and another in New York led an effort that exposed how easy it was for a drug-addled hospital worker to get 18 jobs in eight states:

Concord newswoman Holly Ramer had been covering the story of an apparently drug-addled radiology technician who was fired from his job in New Hampshire – accused of infecting at least 30 patients with hepatitis C – when she began to hear rumblings that the man had been fired from several other jobs, too.

She suspected there was a bigger story beyond just the incident in New Hampshire and so mentioned it on the East desk’s weekly call with the regional investigative team, piquing New York City newsman David Caruso’s interest. The two teamed up and started delving into the technician’s work history and the system that allowed him to move around the country.

Together, Ramer and Caruso provided the first comprehensive account of how a broken system allowed a medical worker who had been repeatedly fired to keep getting jobs in 18 hospitals in eight states, despite allegations that he used dirty needles on patients and came to work with drugs in his system. The pair couldn’t have pulled it off without help from AP staffers in Michigan, Arizona Washington and NIRC, ensuring the AP was the first to get explanations from every hospital that employed David Kwiatkowski and the first to report on his background and the details of at least one firing.

Kwiatkowski was able to keep getting jobs, Caruso and Ramer revealed, because a medical technician’s work history isn’t recorded by any regulatory boards, the way it is for doctors, even though technicians also hold patients’ lives in their hands. And, in some cases, hospitals were skittish about calling the police because they were afraid they didn’t have enough evidence to make a claim.

The thorough reporting revealed details that made the AP Impact story the most-viewed on AP’s mobile app from Aug. 13-15. The story won centerpiece play on A1 of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and several other fronts. A New Hampshire editor emailed to say, “Fabulous story by Caruso and Ramer on the Hep C suspect. We ran it at the top of the front page.” Ramer was interviewed by CBS radio in Boston and Boston-area TV featured the story with AP credit.

Two hospitals reacted quickly, with one citing the story in calling for mandatory disclosure by health-care facilities about problem workers. Ramer’s follow on how the case might give momentum to federal legislation to fix the system also won front-page play.

Read the AP IMPACT story.

Interactives also produced a map that allowed users to click on the various places Kwiatkowski worked to see more information about how he hopped around the country.

For using the AP’s reach to produce exclusive reporting that had impact in a range of states, Ramer and Caruso share this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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