A hospital employee who considered himself an "angel of death" has confessed to the mercy killing of 40 to 50 patients from 1989 to August of last year, authorities said Friday.
Efren Saldivar, a respiratory care therapist at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, confessed to killing the patients to Glendale police, said Cathleen A. McCoy, executive officer of the state Respiratory Care Board.
The board suspended Saldivar's license to practice Friday. The district attorney's office said it was investigating the case, but no charges have been filed.
A hospital spokesman said the man who made the claims has been fired, and that the entire respiratory nursing staff of about 40 people has been placed on paid leave pending an investigation.
``This has been an all out search for the truth for this hospital,'' said hospital spokesman Mark Newmyer. ``We do not know at this point if any wrongdoing has been committed. We did bring this to the police immediately.''
In a declaration to the Respiratory Care Board, Glendale police Officer William Currie described a March 11 interview in which Saldivar waived his Miranda rights and confessed.
"Saldivar talked about his anger at seeing patients kept alive as opposed to the guilt he would feel at the failure of providing life saving care," Currie stated. "(Polygraph examiner Ervin Youngblood) asked Saldivar if he considered himself an angel of death. Saldivar replied yes."
Billy Ramirez, whose sister worked with Saldivar at the hospital and was a good friend, said Saldivar "was pretty nice. He seemed normal."
As a respiratory care therapist, Saldivar was authorized to administer medication to help patients with breathing problems.
Saldivar was initially jailed after the alleged confession but released 48 hours later for insufficient evidence pending further investigation, said Glendale Police Sgt. Rick Young. Saldivar was not booked.
"I interviewed Saldivar at length and he told me that he had caused between 40 and 50 deaths at GAMC since he was employed there in 1989," Currie stated. "Saldivar said some of the deaths were by lethal injections of Pavulon or S.U.C.C., both of which cause paralysis."
"S.U.C.C." is succinylcholine chloride, a paralyzing medication.
"Saldivar said he also caused deaths by decreasing oxygen of patients who were on a ventilator," Currie stated. "Saldivar said the criteria for patients who were killed was as follows: they had to be unconscious, they had to have a DNR order (do not resuscitate) and they had to look like they were ready to die. Saldivar said he prided himself in having a very ethical criteria as to how he picked victims."
Currie said Saldivar told him he did not start the lethal injections until approximately three years after he joined Glendale Adventist. "Saldivar said he thought he got the idea from a '20/20' news segmenor a '60 Minutes' news report regarding a therapist in Chicago who was killing patients," Currie said.
"Saldivar said he felt encouraged by other therapists at GAMC who would sometimes give him room numbers of patients who needed lethal injections," Currie stated.
"Saldivar said he stopped killing patients in August 1997, after he heard one of his co-workers saw morphine he was storing in his personal locker at work."
The district attorney's office said it has known about the case since earlier this month, but further investigation was necessary. Spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons refused to comment further.
Currie said he and two colleagues received an anonymous tip on March 3. The telephone caller alleged that on or about Feb. 16 a therapist named Efren Saldivar at Glendale Adventist Medical Center "helped a patient die fast."
Police launched a criminal investigation.
Currie said another respiratory therapist, Bob Baker, told police that colleague Elmer Diwa had remarked to him more than a year ago that Saldivar had a "magic syringe" after Baker had expressed surprise at the death of a patient under Saldivar's care.
"Additionally, Baker said approximately four months ago he saw several vials of morphine and two vials of S.U.C.C. in Saldivar's locker at GAMC," Currie stated. "Baker said he never told anyone at the time because he made his discovery while playing a prank on Saldivar and was in his locker illegally."
Saldivar came to the Glendale police station on March 11 at Currie's request but balked when the officer asked if he would take a polygraph test. He worried it would be "inconclusive" because he was responsible for a patient's death at Glendale in 1989.
The officer said Saldivar told him he noticed a patient was still breathing an hour after being taken of life support and had suffocated him by "joining" the respirator breathing tubes and blocking the flow of fresh air, causing the patient to die in about 15 minutes.
Currie said Saldivar also was concerned about times "in which he had 'failed to act' in certain incidents which resulted in a patient's death due to his failure to provide medical care."
Saldivar agreed to take the polygraph exam. Currie said he listened from outside as Saldivar relayed the same concerns to the test examiner, then told him of an August 1997 incident in which he injected a patient with a medication that caused paralysis and led to the patient's death.
Currie said he entered the interview room and advised Saldivar of his Miranda rights, which Saldivar waived and then began telling of all the deaths.
Saldivar was detained for 48 hours but released.
Written by Jeff Wong
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