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Five Possible Attempts to Kill Hospital Patients Investigated

September 25, 1993|MICHAEL GRANBERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Police are investigating whether employees of Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla tried to kill four terminally ill patients over the last three months by turning off the oxygen tanks that act as their life-support systems, officials said Friday.

Hospital administrators have informed investigators of five incidents involving four patients that occurred between June and Labor Day, San Diego police spokesman Bill Robinson said.

None of the patients was harmed, and each of the attempts was quickly discovered by other hospital employees, Scripps spokesman Gustavo Friederichsen said Friday. Two incidents involved one patient, with all occurring in the hospital's long-term care wing.

Patients in that area suffer from a broad range of illnesses, all of which require ventilators that supply life-sustaining oxygen, Friederichsen said. Most patients have chronic respiratory problems and many are elderly.

Since Sept. 6, two unidentified employees have been suspended as part of the investigation by the hospital and police, Friederichsen said, noting that the incidents have stopped. He declined to offer additional information on the employees.

Police spokesman Robinson said that after each instance police interviewed "all hospital employees who would have any possible access to these patients. But so far, detectives who worked the case don't feel they have enough evidence to make an arrest."

Robinson said police have not ruled out the possibility of mechanical or employee error, although Friederichsen said the hospital had never before experienced such problems. He said staff observation of patients and anyone with access to patients has been sharply increased.

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