For many, a hospital is seen as a place of safety. However, for one doctor, the hospital is something like a hunting ground.
A Dallas anesthesiologist was arrested Wednesday on federal criminal charges for allegedly injecting nerve blocking agents and other drugs into patient IV bags at a surgery center, resulting in the death of his coworker and multiple cardiac emergencies, according to a release from the US Attorney’s Office.
Raynaldo Rivera Ortiz Jr., a 59-year-old doctor, was arrested by the Dallas Police Department in Plano, Texas, on Wednesday and is charged with tampering with a consumer product causing death and intentional drug adulteration, according to Dallas Police and the US Attorney’s Office.
“A single incident of seemingly intentional patient harm would be disconcerting; multiple incidents are truly disturbing. At this point, however, we believe that the problem is limited to one individual, who is currently behind bars,” US Attorney Chad E. Meacham said. “The Department of Justice and our indefatigable partners at the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations and the Dallas Police Department will work tirelessly to hold him accountable. In the meantime, it is safe to undergo anesthesia in Dallas.
Ortiz will make his initial appearance before a US Magistrate Judge in Dallas at 10 a.m. on Friday. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
As of Thursday afternoon, Ortiz did not have an attorney listed.
The arrest stems from a series of unexpected cardiac emergencies at the Baylor Scott & White Surgicare North Dallas facility from May to September, according to the Texas Medical Board.
In particular, Dr. Melanie Kaspar, a 55-year-old anesthesiologist at the surgery center, died in June, according to CNN affiliate WFAA.
According to the criminal complaint, she experienced a medical emergency and died immediately after treating herself for dehydration using an IV bag of saline taken from the surgical center where she and Ortiz worked. An autopsy report completed on or around August 24 revealed that she died from a lethal dose of a nerve blocking agent called bupivacaine, which is often used during the administration of anesthesia.
Also on August 24, an 18-year-old man had unexpected complications during surgery and had to be hospitalized for several days, the complaint states.
Investigators then obtained several IV bags from the surgical facility and found that two had small puncture holes in the clear plastic packaging, the complaint states.
Surveillance video connected Ortiz to several of the incidents, according to the complaint. For example, on August 4, surveillance video shows Ortiz walked from an operating room to a bag warmer, placed a single IV bag inside, visually scanned the empty hallway, and then quickly walked away, the complaint says. Shortly after, a 56-year-old woman suffered a cardiac emergency during a scheduled cosmetic surgery after a bag from the warmer was used during her procedure, the complaint says.
“If someone else at (the surgical facility) other than Ortiz were responsible for these events, there would likely be some video evidence of that person handling IV bags,” the complaint states. “Instead, the video evidence shows Ortiz inexplicably placing single IV bags in the warmer precisely near the times of the adverse events under investigation.”
Investigators also discovered that the surgical facility had begun investigating Ortiz on May 19 for allegedly deviating from the standard of care with a patient, the complaint states. Ortiz was informed of the disciplinary inquiry on May 24, and the first cardiac emergency incident occurred later that week, the complaint states.
Ortiz first got his medical license in February 1991 and practiced as an anesthesiologist at surgical centers in Dallas, according to the criminal complaint.
On September 9, a disciplinary panel of the Texas Medical Board was informed of the accusations and temporarily suspended Ortiz’s Texas medical license, “after determining his continuation in the practice of medicine poses a continuing threat to public welfare,” a release from the Texas Medical Board said.