California respiratory therapist: Killer or liar?
Investigators want to know if confession is true
March 28, 1998
Web posted at: 9:36 p.m. EST (0236 GMT)
GLENDALE, California (CNN) -- Investigators and relatives of patients who died at Glendale Adventist Medical Center are searching for answers to one question: Did Efren Saldivar really kill 40 to 50 patients?
Saldivar, a former respiratory therapist at the hospital, told police that he killed extremely ill patients over an eight-year period by either injecting them with drugs or reducing their oxygen levels. Police say he told a polygraph examiner that he considered himself an "angel of death."
But Glendale police who have been investigating the case say they haven't turned up any evidence of suspicious deaths at the hospital. And so far, Saldivar has not been charged with any crime.
However, a state deputy attorney general who reviewed the evidence, Gloria Barrios, concluded that his "statements cannot simply be discounted as the rantings of a person seeking attention."
Relatives demand answers
Relatives of people who suspect their loved ones might have died under mysterious circumstances began contacting police after news of Saldivar's confession broke Friday night.
"I want to know -- did she die in her sleep, did she feel pain, or did somebody murder her?" said Ana Spann, whose 95-year-old grandmother, Juana Souza, died in 1996 while undergoing respiratory treatments at the hospital.
"We thought that God had taken her. I hope it was like that," Souza said.
The 450-bed hospital has also been inundated with calls from relatives and the media. Friday night, hospital officials announced they were suspending, with pay, the hospital's entire 44-member respiratory care department and replacing them with outside professionals. Saturday, they distributed a letter to all patients.
"We want to assure you that we firmly believe there is no reason for concern regarding safety," the letter said. "We have taken every reasonable precaution to protect patients, and we are committed to doing whatever it takes to get to the truth in this investigation."
In his statements to police, Saldivar said he had been encouraged to kill gravely ill patients by other therapists at the hospital.
Police: Probe damaged by release of information
News of Saldivar's confession, made March 11, broke Friday after the state Respiratory Care Board suspended his license for 30 days, based on information provided by Glendale police.
Rick Young, spokesman for the Glendale Police Department, said the release of the information "has hampered this investigation 100 times fold." He said some hospital employees are now reluctant to cooperate for fear their names will be revealed.
But Kathleen McCoy, executive director of the board, said the information became a matter of public record once an administrative law court suspended the license.
The suspension would not necessarily prevent Saldivar from working. In 16 states, respiratory therapists are not required to be licensed, McCoy said.
Saldivar told police that he began killing patients in 1989 and stopped in 1997 when he learned that a co-worker had found death-inducing drugs in his locker.
Reuters contributed to this report.