A New Jersey attorney accused the 10 hospitals and nursing home where Charles Cullen worked of negligence and said he is considering a lawsuit on behalf of three families who say their loved ones died suspiciously in the past year.
Anthony Macri, who specializes in medical malpractice law, said institution after institution failed to share their suspicions that Cullen, who moved from one nursing job to the next over 16 years, may have killed patients.
"To me, it's both unethical and unbelievable that hospitals did not pass this information on," said Macri during a news conference at his office in Denville, N.J., Friday afternoon, adding that he believes there is a pervasive "conspiracy of silence" in the medical community.
Macri said he supports waiving the death penalty in exchange for Cullen providing information about the 30 to 40 patients he says he killed, a deal that Cullen's attorney has said is the only way his client will cooperate with authorities.
Cullen, 43, of Bethlehem, has been charged with the murder of one patient and the attempted murder of another for allegedly injecting them with potentially lethal doses of the heart medication digoxin at the Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, N.J. Those two cases are in addition to the three that Macri said he is now investigating.
Before his stint at Somerset, Cullen worked at every major hospital in the Lehigh Valley.
He was fired from several jobs, including one at Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown, and was the subject of investigations at Easton Hospital, St. Luke's Hospital, Fountain Hill and Warren Hospital.
Officials at Lehigh Valley Hospital, St. Luke's Hospital and Sacred Heart Hospital declined to comment on Macri's statements. Officials at Warren Hospital could not be reached for comment.
Sue Ross, spokeswoman for Easton Hospital, said Community Health Systems, Inc. -- the hospital's owner -- would not be liable for any legal action filed in connection with the Cullen case, because Cullen worked there before the company took over.
Community Health Systems acquired Easton Hospital in August 2001; Cullen worked there from November 1998 to March 1999. Ross said the Two Rivers Health and Wellness Foundation, a nonprofit group that serves as a link between the hospital's former and current owners, could be held responsible.
Paul Brunswick, foundation president, said Two Rivers could be held liable for any malpractice or workers' compensation suit that happened prior to the sale. He declined to comment on specific cases involving Cullen's tenure at the hospital.
Macri said he is researching the deaths of three individuals who were admitted to Somerset Medical Center during the past year and subsequently died.
He declined to name the three but described them this way: One was a 68-year-old Morris County, N.J., man who was admitted for elective knee surgery. Another was a 75-year-old Somerset County, N.J., woman who was admitted for respiratory distress that was not life-threatening, and the third was an 81-year-old Somerset County, N.J., man with heart problems.
In each case, Macri said, the patients appeared to be doing well only to die suddenly. He said at least one of them, the 68-year-old man, had elevated levels of digoxin in his blood.
Macri said he did not know if Cullen was the primary nurse for any of the patients, but he said in two cases, family members remembered Cullen after seeing his face on television. None of the three patients were autopsied, and Macri said he would have their bodies exhumed if necessary.
He also said he has received about 20 additional calls from potential clients who are also concerned that Cullen may have killed their relatives at some of the other New Jersey hospitals where he worked.
Macri said even though the families he represents would like to see Cullen receive capital punishment if he did murder their relatives, they recognize that the death penalty is rarely carried out in New Jersey.
As a practical matter, Macri said, he has advised them it would be better for law enforcement officials to make a deal with Cullen so that he will share everything he knows.
In addition to helping people know how their loved ones died, Macri said, Cullen could also provide insight into how he was able to move from one institution to the next despite his work record.
Macri called on the hospitals to be open with information while at the same time expressing doubt that they would.
"I expect that we're going to be met with stonewalling all the way," he said.
Reporter Tom Coombe contributed to this story.
Hospitals accused of negligence in handling Cullen
New Jersey families consider suit against nurse's ex-employers.
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