EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

October 18, 2012

Judge to rule on Exeter Hospital records

CONCORD — A judge is deciding what limits, if any, to impose on state public health officials seeking patient records tied to the hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital.

Former hospital worker David Kwiatkowski has been charged with stealing drugs from the hospital’s cardiac catheterization unit and replacing them with tainted syringes that were later used on patients.

Thirty-two Exeter Hospital patients have been found to have the same strain of the liver-destroying virus Kwiatkowski carries, and information gathered by public health officials suggests more are possible, attorney Jeanne Herrick said yesterday.

Herrick was representing the state at a hearing on a request by Exeter Hospital to prohibit the state from accessing further medical records unless it is more specific in its requests. Scott O’Connell, the hospital’s lawyer, called the state’s actions abusive and over the top, and insisted the hospital would be violating both state and federal law if it provided investigators unfettered access to its records system.

“Once they have access to the computer, they can surf to wherever they want to,” he said. “To give them unlimited access to sit in front of a computer and look anybody they want — your records, my records — that’s outrageous.”

The hospital is willing to provide paper copies of patient records if the state requests a record by name and specifies the time frame and portion of the record it wants to review. That would give the hospital time to make sure confidential information that is specifically protected by law — such as mental health or substance abuse treatment — is redacted, O’Connell said.

While both sides agreed that the state is legally allowed to collect only the minimum amount of information necessary for its investigation, the hospital argued it should be the gatekeeper in terms of allowing access to that information. But Herrick said the state has a right to broad access to review information, while extracting only the minimum amount necessary.

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