Bay Area transplant surgeon Hootan Roozrokh faces eight years in prison for allegedly trying to make a prospective organ donor die faster.
Roozrokh was booked days after a grand jury in New Orleans declined to indict physician Anna Pou for alleged mercy killings following Hurricane Katrina, ending a more than yearlong saga for Pou and two nurses arrested with her.
And it was just over a year ago that Wisconsin nurse Julie Thao made a fatal error that would land her in a criminal courtroom.
The cases reflect what appears to be a growing willingness among prosecutors to go after providers in the criminal justice system rather than allow hospital administrators, medical boards and malpractice lawyers sort out the facts and penalties when care goes wrong. The stories have raised concerns that fear of prosecution could drive talented people away from healthcare and create an atmosphere of silence when candor is needed to make hospitals safer. Some of the same people agree that the clearly guilty ones should be tried and locked up.
Its frightening, said Charles Denham, founder and chairman of the Texas Medical Institute of Technology, a research organization dedicated to patient safety. The public and everybody involved are starting to understand what dangerous places hospitals are, he said. Theyll lay blame at individuals feet. But if the individuals are guilty of gross negligence or intentional harm, Denham said, hang em.
Other recent cases include: administrators of St. Ritas Nursing Home in New Orleans charged and recently cleared at trial in the deaths of residents during the hurricanes aftermath; the city of Los Angeles last year criminally charged Kaiser Foundation Hospitals over allegations that one of its hospitals dumped a homeless patient on the citys Skid Row; and in June, a urologist in Los Gatos, Calif., was charged for allegedly ordering radiation therapy for patients he falsely told had prostate cancer.
In another instance, though prosecutors ultimately decided not to bring charges, a womans July 2006 death from a heart attack in the emergency room of 146-bed Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan, Ill., was ruled a homicide in a coroners inquest because she waited two hours without seeing a doctor after presenting with chest pains.
The California transplant case appears to have tested the stomachs of those who generally oppose medical prosecutions. Roozrokh, 33, was a Kaiser employee dispatched on Feb. 3, 2006, to unaffiliated 160-bed Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, Calif., on behalf of the California Transplant Donor Network. The patient was a severely disabled 25-year-old named Ruben Navarro who was on life support after he was found unresponsive at the nursing home where he lived.
Navarros heart kept beating after he was taken off a ventilator, and Roozrokh is said to have ordered levels of morphine and Ativan intended to make it stop before the organs became unusable, according to published accounts of witness statements in court documents. The San Luis Obispo County district attorneys office also accuses Roozrokh of administering the disinfectant Betadine through Navarros feeding tube before the patient was dead.
In my view, the issues that are going to be the subject matter of what will eventually be a trial are legitimate issues to be explored, certainly by healthcare professionals Roozrokhs attorney, Gerald Schwarzbach, said. I believe a criminal court is an inappropriate forum, and the publicity it has generated ... has already done significant damage to organ donation programs across the nation at a time when people are dying for lack of organs.