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MuckReads Podcast: The Good Nurse

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Charles Cullen, who murdered at least 40 patients over his 16-year career as a registered nurse, sits alone in court during his sentencing in Somerville, N.J., on March 2, 2006. (Mike Derer, Pool/AP Photo)

Over the course of 16 years, registered nurse Charles Cullen murdered at least 40 patients and has been implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 people – making him one of the most prolific serial killers in American history.

Charles Graeber chronicles in his new book, The Good Nurse, how Cullen managed to kill patients right from the beginning of his medical career, and was accused or at least suspected of malpractice on several occasions, yet hospitals let him resign quietly and continue his killing spree elsewhere.

Graeber spoke with reporter Marshall Allen about the chilling details of this case, why “any notion that Charles Cullen was a mercy killer should go out the window,” and how, in many ways, the hospitals that employed Cullen also bear responsibility for looking the other way as the unexplained deaths continued.

You can listen to this podcast on iTunes and Stitcher. Graeber’s book – The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murderis on sale now, and you can read full statements from the hospitals mentioned in this podcast below.

Somerset Medical Center Statement – July 10, 2013

Nearly ten years after Charles Cullen’s unthinkable crimes were brought to light, we remain shocked and saddened by these tragic events. Our deepest sympathies will always be with the families of all of Charles Cullen’s victims, and we hope that his being brought to justice has provided them with some sense of closure and peace.

The recently released book, The Good Nurse, has obviously brought renewed attention and scrutiny to the topic of Charles Cullen and his crimes. The book highlights many of the flaws and inadequacies that existed in the healthcare industry and allowed Cullen to move from one hospital to the next over the course of more than 15 years.

While we disagree strongly with the manner in which our institution and our employees are represented in the book, we believe that the best interests of Somerset Medical Center, its employees and our community are best served by maintaining our focus on continuing to provide the highest quality of care to our patients now and in the future, rather than publicly rehashing the details of this tragic chapter in our history.

Somerset Medical Center was a leading advocate in efforts for legislative reforms to make needed changes to the hiring process for health care workers. These efforts led to significant industry changes, including passage of New Jersey’s Health Care Professional Responsibility and Reporting Enhancement Act. We sincerely hope that our efforts, and the reforms that they have helped to bring about help prevent this type of tragedy from ever occurring again.

Catherine Rose RN, MS

July 16, 2013, 11:54 a.m.

Thank you ProPublica and Thank you Charles Graeber for seeing the importance to open the eyes of the Public and Hospital’s to the potential “The Silent Treatment” can have on the lives of so many.  This ‘culture of silence’ is one that must be acknowledged and addressed in order to change the behavior of employees who feel obligated to protect the reputation of their employer. Fortunately there are currently Performance improvement Teams, and Quality Assurance Teams, and Patient Safety Teams who are charged with the responsibility of identifying system problems that permit such tragedy from becoming more wide spread.

Something many healthcare providers are reluctant to acknowledge is that by today’s standards they are adult survivors of neglect and abuse as a child.  This is where this ‘culture of silence’ is rooted.  In the past “silence” served as a means for the child to avoid being further abused, or stigmatized and ostracized by their peers.  It is learned behavior.  Adult survivors of abuse need to come to terms with the fact that they are no longer the helpless, vulnerable child they were in the past.  They are in fact fully mature adults capable of protecting themselves as well as the people they care for.

Patrick Guilfoyle

July 16, 2013, 1:14 p.m.

I think we need to also mention the letting go of bad doctors, so they can “practice” elsewhere

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