A newly hired radiology technician at a Pennsylvania hospital was accused in 2008 of stealing an addictive painkiller in a syringe from hospital premises, taking the syringe right out of an operating room. Subsequently, an investigation and drug test found him in possession of a number of other such syringes, and to be a user of opiates, including fentanyl. Most frightening, he evidently attempted to conceal his theft of the syringe by leaving another syringe, filled with an unhelpful substance. What followed is puzzling and may indicate terrible medical malpractice.

No contact was made with the police, and the hospital did not take any definite steps to prevent the technician from working elsewhere and repeating his behavior. Although he was fired, he had a new job at a different hospital within days. In the subsequent four years, he went from job to job at a total of 10 hospitals. Finally, he was arrested, and now stands accused of having infected a minimum of 31 patients at one hospital alone to hepatitis C.

This occurred, authorities say, because the technician left dirty syringes behind contaminated with his own blood to cover up his continuing theft of fentanyl syringes for his own use. The terrifying possibility is that as many as thousands of hospital patients at the 10 hospitals in eight states where the technician worked may have been exposed to similar risks, and an extensive testing program has commenced to see just how widespread the problem is. Many say that almost all of this could have been avoided if the first hospital had simply taken the proper steps to report the technician both to the police for criminal prosecution and to licensing and accrediting bodies to prevent him from endangering more patients.

Hospitals have a responsibility to ensure that their employees are following the law and have good reputations, and patients have a right to expect as much. Those who suffer as a result of a hospital’s ignorance of an employee’s wrongdoing or a failure to report it may have cause to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Source: Fox News, “Hospital tech’s arrest sets off hepatitis scare in 8 states, shows flaws in system,” Aug. 14, 2012