James B. Stewart, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has investigated wrongdoing on Wall Street and in the White House, turned to healthcare in his most recent book, Blind Eye.
In its pages Stewart reveals the disturbing story of Michael Swango, a doctor from Quincy, Ill., who went from healer to alleged serial killer.
After narrowly escaping expulsion from medical school at Southern Illinois University, Swango landed a prestigious internship at Ohio State University Hospitals, Columbus. While there he practiced medicine and, most likely, murder, according to Stewart's account.
Despite considerable evidence and a long internal investigation, Swango eluded criminal charges at Ohio State, which responded principally by declining to renew his contract. Shockingly, Swango then landed a job as a technician with an ambulance squad based at Blessing Hospital in Quincy.
After a wave of mysterious illnesses hit his co-workers, Swango was arrested and convicted in 1985 for nonfatally poisoning them. He received a maximum five-year sentence and served two years.
After his release, Swango returned to practice at hospitals in South Dakota, New York and Zimbabwe, leaving scores of suspicious patient deaths in his wake.
Time and again he escaped capture. In several cases, doctors rallied to his defense, in disbelief that he or any physician could have committed homicide on the job.
Some hospital officials seemed to let liability fears overpower any desire to share their suspicions with police or Swango's subsequent employers.
Swango fled the U.S. for Africa in 1994. Three years later he was apprehended at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. He re-entered the U.S. to secure a visa so he could join the staff of yet another hospital, this one in Saudi Arabia. In 1998 Swango pleaded guilty to making false statements to gain admission to practice as a doctor at a Veterans Affairs hospital on Long Island, N.Y. He was sentenced to 42 months, which he is serving at a federal prison in Oregon.
But in January Swango will be eligible to be released to a halfway house. Complete freedom could come as early as next June.
At his midtown New York office, Stewart recently talked about his findings with MODERN HEALTHCARE's Scott Hensley.