Criminal negligence is among several potential crimes being investigated by police as they probe the actions of a nurse at a South Florida hospital who may have exposed more than 1,800 patients to HIV and hepatitis.
Officials at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale said earlier this week the hospital discovered that Qui Lan, 59, was reusing catheter tubing and saline bags during cardiac chemical stress tests, potentially exposing 1,851 patients to diseases from January 2004 to early September.
Fort Lauderdale police spokesman Sgt. Frank Sousa said Wednesday that investigators are looking for any patients who may have contracted a disease to come forward.
"Right now, we don't have any victims," Sousa said, adding that exposure alone may not constitute a crime. "In order to be a victim, you have to contract some kind of communicable disease."
A man who answered a call to a telephone number listed for Lan referred questions to her attorney.
Lan's lawyer, Allison Gilman, told The Associated Press her client has been a nurse for 37 years and had no prior disciplinary actions.
"Right now, we don't feel like she did anything wrong," Gilman said. She declined to comment on whether the hospital's allegations about repeated use of the equipment were true.
Hospital officials said the nurse was suspended on Sept. 8, and resigned the next day.
"She did not give a reason for why she did this," said Alice Taylor, the hospital's chief operating officer.
Taylor said the hospital received an anonymous tip on Sept. 1 that the nurse had been seen reusing the saline bags and tubing that are meant for one-time sterile use.
The facility launched an internal investigation, and within about a week, found the allegations to be true.
It then began the process of identifying patients who were handled by Lan, as opposed to two other nurses in that department, and may have been exposed to disease.
On Oct. 3, certified letters were sent to all potential victims.
The hospital has received nearly 1,500 calls to its hotline, Taylor said.
"We are asking all these patients, please go get tested," hospital CEO James Thaw said Wednesday, adding that the facility will pay for the tests.
Patients who may have been exposed had come into the hospital for heart stress tests, and were administered medication to raise their heart rates and increase blood flow, as opposed to running on a treadmill.
Thaw said the hospital is still evaluating any potential legal action against Lan. He wouldn't say whether any patients have come forward with infections, citing privacy laws.
Dr. David Droller, the hospital's infectious diseases medical director, said the chances of infection are low, but it can't be ruled out.
"We cannot say the risk is zero," Droller said.
On The Net:
Broward General Medical Center: http://www.browardhealth.org/patientnotice