N.J. Nurse Admits to Dozens of Murders

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Dec. 17, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.


CHARLES CULLEN: Your Honor, I don't wish to be represented. I don't contest the charges. I would like to plead guilty.


TONY SNOW, GUEST HOST: A New Jersey nurse freely admits that he killed dozens of patients over the years, all in the name of mercy. He is charged with one count of murder and one of attempted murder.

Heather Nauert is here with more on why this guy was able to get away with it.

HEATHER NAUERT, FNC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's truly an unbelievable story. Charles Cullen (search) was fired from at least three hospitals and was the subject of a murder investigation, but those red flags never prevented him from finding any work.

Joining me is Congressman Mike Ferguson (search) of New Jersey for today's big question. Congressman, how can a nurse investigated for murder get a hospital job? Explain that.

REP. MIKE FERGUSON (R) NEW JERSEY: Well, we have a situation where, unfortunately, in the name of privacy, in the name of protecting people's privacy, we have a situation where someone who was clearly doing bad things to patients — who needed his care rather than his killing — was then enable to get away with this.

He moved from job to job. Here we have a situation... Somerset Medical Center (search) in New Jersey, my family has been treated there. It's a wonderful facility. They do a great job. Fortunately, just because of their good actions, their astuteness on this issue, this guy's been caught. But he had an ability to move from facility to facility because we don't have an ability from state to state to be able to track somebody like this.

NAUERT: OK, well, let's back up for just one second, because I understand that the CEO of that hospital where he last worked, where this guy claimed to have killed 12 to 15 people — an incredible number of lives — that hospital, when they did their background search, found that he had an active New Jersey nursing license and that his reference checks also checked out. So how did he manage to slip through the cracks? Explain that.

FERGUSON: Well, this is another problem that the litigious nature of our society causes. Here you have former employers who knew he was a bad guy. He knew he had a very questionable, at best past, and at worst, someone who did harm to patients. Former employers are afraid of saying anything bad to him because they're afraid of lawsuits. It happens in other professions as well. But here we have a situation where, unfortunately, it turned into a matter of life and death.

NAUERT: What kind of information legally can employers give about previous employees to prospective employers?

FERGUSON: Well, certainly, when it comes to protecting the healthcare of patients who are being cared for, I believe and I think, most people would say the hospital has a responsibility to tell a future potential employer if they're called for a reference that this person had a history such as this one. But, unfortunately, again, because of lawsuits and the litigious nature of our society, you have former employers who are afraid of saying anything bad about somebody, even if they know he is a bad person.

NAUERT: Of course, on the other hand, employers do have a right to be concerned about defamation lawsuits, because if they just say, “Oh, jeez, this person is under suspicion of administering too many drugs to a certain person, that hurts someone's reputation and they can be subject to a defamation lawsuit.” So I can see how they do have a point, what room, though, do employers have to protect themselves, to walk that line, but yet on the other hand, protect patients?

FERGUSON: Well, this is what we're going to be looking at as we get into this issue a little bit. We're going to be looking at this from a legislative perspective, from a regulatory perspective in Washington, D.C. I've already been in touch with the Health and Human Services department. We're going to see if we can facilitate some meetings with our friends at Somerset Medical Center and the folks at HHS who may have something to say about this.

But the bottom line is we have to bring this back to the common sense middle. That's what legislating is about, that is what regulating is about. The pendulum seems to have to swung too far in the direction of protecting employees' privacy and too far away from protecting the health care and the safety of patients. We have to move that pendulum back to the commons sense center.

NAUERT: Let me ask you about licenses, because the state nursing boards, as I understand it, are the ones who actually put out the license, enable people to go on and continue to treat patients. Should maybe the bar be lowered, just briefly, for people to be able to have their license revoked?

FERGUSON: Well, what we really need to do is enable prosecutors to be able to do their job when they are given a heads up. You know, many times law enforcement and other officials were given a head's up about this man and were not able to pursue the leads.

We also need to enable states to talk to one another, for licensing agencies in various states. Here this guy had a reputation, a record in Pennsylvania, but he was able to go to work in New Jersey. That's a problem. It's something we need to look at the federal level.

NAUERT: Alright. We'll keep an eye on this. Congressman Ferguson, thanks so much for coming in and joining us.

FERGUSON: Happy to be with you, thanks.

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