The number of former hospital and nursing home patients whose medical records are being re-examined as part of the Charles Cullen investigation continued to grow as 2003 came to a close.
Authorities in seven counties in two states have subpoenaed or requested the medical records of at least 14 patients at the nine hospitals and one nursing home in New Jersey and Pennsylvania where Cullen worked over the last 16 years. But the patients whose cases are getting at least a cursory second look number in the hundreds.
''This case has exposed a very serious flaw in the level of oversight that state regulators and hospital administrators now have in place to protect patients,'' said Boscola, the committee's minority chairwoman.
Cullen, 43, is charged with murder and attempted murder for administering overdoses of the heart medicine digoxin to the Rev. Florian Gall and Jin Kyung Han in June at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, N.J. He has told investigators that he has killed 30 to 40 patients during his career.
He is being held at the Ann Klein Forensic Center in Trenton, N.J.
Warren Hospital officials said they were subpoenaed this week by the Warren County prosecutor to provide the medical records of three additional patients, for a total of four patients at that hospital whose medical files are being examined for ties to Cullen.
Kay Shea, spokeswoman for the Phillipsburg hospital, said prosecutors already had the medical records of Helen Dean, whose death they investigated in 1993.
Somerset Medical Center turned over three more patient records to prosecutors in the past week, for a total of nine, said Kathleen Roberts, hospital spokeswoman.
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said he has requested the medical records of only one patient Ottomar A. Schramm who died at Easton Hospital in Wilson on Dec. 31, 1998.
While he has requested nine sets of medical records, Somerset County Prosecutor Wayne Forrest said his office has received more than 150 calls from relatives of patients who died at Somerset Medical Center.
''We are doing a lot of different investigative steps, and they don't all immediately require that we obtain a file from Somerset Medical Center,'' Forrest said.
Warren County Prosecutor Frank Busci said his office has received calls from 12 families, including two on Wednesday, concerned about loved ones' deaths at Warren Hospital, while Morganelli said he has gotten about a dozen similar calls about deaths at Easton Hospital.
Northampton County Coroner Zachary Lysek has said he will review the more-than 100 deaths at the hospital during Cullen's tenure.
Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin said he won't say how many cases his office is examining, how many calls have been fielded or how many medical records have been obtained.
Martin has confirmed that his office is probing an insulin overdose involving Richland Township resident Francis J. Henry at Allentown's Liberty Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in May 1998.
''The figure at the moment is fluid,'' he said.
Essex County and Hunterdon County, N.J., prosecutors said they are examining all the deaths that occurred during Cullen's tenure at hospitals in their jurisdictions, but would not say how many deaths that adds up to or how many families have called with concerns.
The Morris County, N.J., prosecutor's office did not return a phone call.
Meanwhile, the New Jersey attorney general will convene a meeting this month of law enforcement officials from New Jersey and Pennsylvania who are looking into deaths that happened at hospitals where Cullen worked.
The goal of the meeting will be to determine the extent of the individual investigations, acquaint the investigators with each other and share resources, said spokesman John Hagerty.
Getting a handle on exactly how many deaths are under investigation is difficult because the hospitals and prosecutors have varying policies about public disclosure.
''We normally wouldn't even confirm we are doing an investigation,'' said Hunterdon County First Assistant Prosecutor Steven Lember.
Reporter John M. R. Bull contributed to this story.