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Prosecutors launch criminal inquiry into Romanian maternity hospital

From Cosmin Stan, For CNN
Rescuers tend to a newborn injured by a fire at the Giulesti Maternity Hospital in Bucharest, Romania, on Monday.
Rescuers tend to a newborn injured by a fire at the Giulesti Maternity Hospital in Bucharest, Romania, on Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The hospital risks being shut down, the chief prosecutor says
  • 5 newborns died in an August 16 fire in an intensive care unit
  • The nurse in charge of the ICU faces criminal charges
RELATED TOPICS
  • Romania

Bucharest, Romania (CNN) -- Romanian authorities have launched a criminal inquiry into a Bucharest maternity hospital where five newborns died and six others were injured in a fire last week, the chief prosecutor in charge of the investigation said Wednesday.

The inquiry will end in a trial, and the hospital could be shut down if a judge decides it should be, Marius Iacob said.

In the investigation that followed the August 16 blaze at Giulesti Maternity Hospital, authorities found violations of safety rules involving workers, the security of electrical systems, and human resources management, Iacob said.

The hospital faces charges of manslaughter and unintentionally causing injuries, said Iacob. Florentina Cirstea, a nurse in charge of the maternity hospital's intensive care unit, where the fire broke out, faces the same charges. A judge on Tuesday ordered Cirstea jailed for 29 days while she awaits trial.

The hospital's current interim manager met with prosecutors Wednesday. Authorities also questioned the hospital's suspended manager and plan to do so again, Iacob said.

The hospital has filed a malpractice insurance claim for 500,000 euros (about $632,500), he said, but that will not cover the damages, which have been estimated at at least 1 million euros ($1.25 million) and possibly higher. That does not include any claims filed by the victims' families, Iacob said.

More people may be charged in the case, the prosecutor said.

Meanwhile, Cirstea's colleagues at the hospital sent out a letter to media outlets Wednesday expressing their support for her and blaming the Romanian health care system for the tragedy.

During her 14 years as a nurse in the intensive care unit, Cirstea has taken care of thousands of premature babies with health problems. Many have been saved because of her professionalism, the staffers said in the letter.

Cirstea's attroney, Simona Luciana Parvu, has appealed the judge's decision to jail her client. The judge on Tuesday accepted the prosecutors' request to arrest Cirstea because she failed to fulfill her duties to care for the 11 newborns in the intensive care unit at the time of the blaze.

Besides those allegations, the judge noted in the motivation for deciding to arrest Cirstea, released Wednesday, that she oscillated in her statements and lied several times about what she was doing and why she left the ICU.

Parvu's appeal is set to be discussed Monday by another judge, and Cirstea may be released.

At a time when she was supposed to have been on duty in the ICU, Cirstea left the newborns unattended for 12 minutes, going to another hospital room and to the bathroom, the prosecutor said in the arrest warrant.

The defense lawyer acknowledged that her client left the ICU to go to the bathroom, but said she was then was called by a colleague to another room because the colleague had been called to help deliver another baby in an operating room.

Parvu said Cirstea deeply regrets what happened, but also blamed the health care system. Cirstea's job description said that at least two other nurses were supposed to be with her in the unit at all times, but she was alone, she said.

If convicted of manslaughter, Cirstea could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.