by Brian Mahany
Several months ago I wrote a story while sitting in an airport hotel in Pittsburgh. It was of a local physician who stood up to corrupt medical practices. Dr. Tullio Emanuele claimed other doctors were performing unnecessary cardiac patients on patients just to collect Medicare and insurance money. By being a whistleblower can coming forward, he probably saved lives and certainly stopped unnecessary suffering and waste of taxpayers money. Unfortunately, today’s story will shock you. It’s what happens when people don’t come forward.
Buried in the back of yesterday’s newspaper was a story of an X-ray technician who was fired by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center – Presbyterian in 2008 for stealing drugs. If the story ended here it would just be another sad story of drug addiction. The story gets much worse.
The technician, David Kwiatkowski was found with a syringe of an addictive pain-killer in an operating room. If stealing the syringe from a needy patient wasn’t bad enough, he apparently swapped it with one filled with a “dummy fluid.”
He was caught and fired. The cops were not called. Worse, neither the hospital nor the staffing agency that hired him reported him to the national agency that accredits radiology technicians. That means he was free to walk into another hospital and get another job.
In four years, he simply jumped from hospital to hospital. According to press reports, he worked at ten overall. Finally, he was arrested in New Hampshire. He is accused there of infecting at least 31 patients there with hepatitis C, a deadly disease that affects the liver. Prosecutors say that he first used syringes filled with painkillers on himself and then allowed the dirty syringe to be used on unsuspecting patients.
Hospitals across the country are now scrambling to find all the patients Kwiatkowski had contact with. Hundreds, if not thousands, are at risk for having contracted hepatitis C.
Assuming the allegations are true, Kwiatkowski is a monster. His gruesome crimes were preventable, however. Hospitals unfortunately are known for simply hiding their dirty laundry. There were probably dozens of hospital workers who knew that Kwiatkowski was stealing drugs. (We will give these folks some credit and hope that most probably didn’t know that he was refilling the dirty needles with dummy fluid.)
Wherever there is a code of silence, the potential for this type of behavior is present. One whistleblower could have called the police, the health department, the accrediting agency, someone. Instead, this guy was simply fired and allowed to spread disease around the nation.
We know that whistleblowers face a rough road. Especially in the health care industry. But more and more are coming forward and doing the right thing. These folks are the true American heroes.
There are federal and state anti-retaliation and whistleblower protection laws. Our best advice is to seek good legal advice before you blow the whistle and understand your rights. Not every whistleblower faces retaliation. We know of many who were actually thanked for coming forward. Until society and big business (hospitals are big business) all feel that way, however, be prepared.
In many cases, whistleblowers are entitled to large cash awards. Again, seek good advice and understand your rights.
The fraud lawyers at Mahany & Ertl have represented many whistleblowers including those in the health care field. We presently represent the whistleblower in the largest federal false claims act case in the country, HUD’s $2.4 billion dollar case against Allied Home Mortgage. There are many law firms that represent people in false claims actions (sometimes called “qui tam”). What makes us unique is that we stick with our clients if they face retaliation or lose their job.
Mahany & Ertl – America’s fraud Lawyers. Offices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Detroit, Michigan; Portland, Maine & Minneapolis, Minnesota. Services available in many states.