Tuesday, March 17, 2009

US Air Force Nurse Charged in 3 Patients' Deaths

News in Balance
News from the U.S. Air Force

News in Balance:

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, March 17, 2009 -- A nurse at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, was formally charged March 17 by Air Force officials with three counts of violating Article 118 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice involving the deaths of terminally ill patients.

Capt. Michael Fontana faces the three charges due to the deliberate administration of lethal amounts of medication, and one count of violating Article 133 of the UCMJ for conduct unbecoming an officer for changing a medical document.

The charges are the result of an Air Force investigation that occurred after irregularities were discovered in Captain Fontana's administration of medications that may have resulted in the death of an end-of-life patient. Upon suspicion of a breach of the standard of care, Captain Fontana was immediately removed from patient care and a quality of care investigation was initiated.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations was also notified that a possible crime had been committed, and their investigation immediately took priority. During the thorough investigation of that incident, other potential incidents were uncovered, which resulted in two other charges of a similar nature being filed.

In the military justice system, an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The next step in the process is to hold an investigatory hearing, at which an investigating officer will examine the evidence and make a recommendation to the commander regarding disposition of the case. This proceeding is called an Article 32 hearing and is somewhat similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding. The Article 32 hearing will likely be scheduled in the next few weeks. At this point, the commander will decide whether or not the case goes to court-martial.

From the beginning of this investigation, Air Force officials' priorities have been the safety of patients, respect for the families potentially involved, the integrity of the investigation and the judicial process, and the personal and professional well-being of the suspected individual. For all of these reasons, the details concerning this investigation were not previously released.

(Report by Capt. John Severns, Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs.)

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