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Denver Anesthesiologist Dr. Mark Ryan Pleads Guilty To Choking Nurse

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)- An anesthesiologist accused of choking a nurse during a 2018 outburst at Sky Ridge Medical Center pleaded guilty Monday morning to a felony assault charge of strangulation and a misdemeanor assault charge. Dr. Mark R. Ryan will be sentenced in June.

Dr. Mark Randle Ryan (credit: CBS)

"I cried when the word 'guilty' came out of his mouth," said Beth Duche, the nurse who Ryan nearly choked into unconsciousness. "After 17 months he finally had to admit to his crime. No one could protect him."

Ryan has agreed to accept a sentence of three years' probation on both counts. The felony will be erased from his record if he successfully completes probation.

The incident occurred Oct. 8, 2018 when Ryan was making rounds in the recovery room and was turning off vital sign machines in patient bays due to their constant beeping. Ryan worked for an outside anesthesiology group at the time. Ryan told CBS4 he was turning off the machines due to "alarm fatigue" which he said was "significantly dangerous." He said nurses are subject to hundreds of false alarms every shift and "after a while, they just don't hear them."

When Duche noticed what the doctor was doing, she asked him not to turn off the machines and said after being shut off, it can take the machines three to five minutes to turn back on. When Ryan continued to turn off the monitors, Duche again asked him to stop. She then said, "Dr. Ryan grabbed her by the throat and squeezed (her) neck with enough force to where she lost her function to breathe normally... she was seeing stars."

Sky Ridge Medical Center (credit: CBS)

Duche went on to tell police investigators "she was in shock and thought Ryan was going to kill her."

Another nurse said she saw Ryan with his hands around Duche's neck and throat and that he was squeezing her violently.

Duche told CBS4 she hopes what happened to her is an example to anyone in healthcare that assaults a co- worker.

"I often wonder if he would have killed me if the recovery room was empty," said Duche. "The look in his eyes and the grinding of his teeth as he had his hands around my neck, lifting my body off the ground is an image that I will never forget."

Beth Duche
Beth Duche (credit: Beth Duche)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports of nearly 25,000 workplace assaults reported annually, 75% occur in health care and social service settings and workers in health care settings are four times more likely to be victimized than workers in private industry. A 2014 survey on hospital crime attributed 75% of aggravated assaults and 93 % of all assaults against health care workers to patients or customers.

Ryan had no previous disciplinary actions prior to this incident and police said he had no previous criminal history.

Ryan told police, "I just didn't mean to hurt her." In a 2019 agreement to permanently give up his license to practice medicine, Ryan admitted he engaged in "unprofessional conduct."

Lisa Moses, Ryan's attorney, told CBS4 "He is pleased that its resolved short of trial. We look forward to explaining the circumstances of Dr. Ryan during that time period."

Duche has filed a civil lawsuit against Ryan which is scheduled to go to trial later this year.

"I was attacked in an environment I never should have been attacked in," said Duche.

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