I-Team: Methods in Sunrise Hospital Probe Questioned - 8 News NOW

Investigative Reporter Colleen McCarty and Photojournalist Kyle Zuelke

I-Team: Methods in Sunrise Hospital Probe Questioned

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LAS VEGAS - Between December 2009 and May of this year, nurses in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sunrise Hospital discovered catheters normally used to provide fluids and medications were inexplicably separated into two pieces. Of the 14 occurrences, one required surgery. Another contributed to the death of a premature infant.

Nurses Sharon Reyes and Jessica Rice are persons of interest in Metro's criminal investigation of the incidents. "They are very fragile," Reyes said of the catheters. "If any tension is put on these lines, they can snap. That's why you have to take special care in how you handle them and dress them."

The catheters snapped or broke according to hospital incident reports. An in-house review in March found no similarities in lot number or person who put the line in place. After exhausting internal efforts to isolate the problem, Sunrise tells the I-Team it hired a forensic engineer. Don Bunn of Sherry Labs in Oklahoma concludes seven of the eight lines he examined were cut. He deems the eighth inconclusive.

Attorney George Kelesis represents Reyes. "Where's all this evidence," he asked. "They hire an expert who's a metallurgist. What's his expertise in product failure? They claim they did a product failure test. What tests?"

Though Sunrise once described Bunn as a "highly specialized plastics engineer", he tells the I-Team his expertise is primarily in metals. The catheter evaluation for Sunrise is only the second like it in his career. Nevertheless, Bunn stands by his review.

Bunn conducted a visual examination of the incident catheters at the hospital using a light microscope. He followed up with photographic comparisons at his lab against sample catheters he cut using various instruments. 

The I-Team shared Bunn's report with Mark Bruley. He is the vice president of ECRI Institute's Health Technology Accident and Forensic Investigation programs. The programs are among the most respected in the country. While Bruley offers no opinion on Bunn's conclusions, he questions the process by which Bunn reached them.

"We've rarely done even an initial examination of catheters in the field. It's just not the way to do it from a standpoint of getting good definitive conclusions," Bruley said.

Bruley calls a visual examination with a light microscope a good first step. Bruley says that is typically followed by further review under a scanning electron microscope. Bruley says it is also critical to consider other possible causes based on the circumstances of each incident. That was testing not found in Bunn's report.

"In order to rule out a tension break where it's just pulled too hard and snaps, or to rule out a bending back and forth break, you may wish to do that type of recreation with a sample as well to be sure that you haven't overlooked something," Bruley said.

Independent of Bruley and Bunn, the nurses consulted their own product failure analyst. In a letter to their lawyer, Dr. Arum Kumar of Seal Laboratories deems Bunn's report inconclusive. Kumar, not unlike Bruley, suggests that further examination under a scanning electron microscope is needed.

"It's dismal. It's horrible. It's lacking," Kelesis said. "As we sit here today, I have not seen a document or a piece of evidence that says these girls committed a wrongful act."

The I-Team has learned the Metro Police Department selected what it describes as a government lab to examine the lines. The department has not yet received the lab results.

In the meantime, the coroner is reviewing his conclusions involving the baby who died from a separated catheter. Coroner Mike Murphy tells the I-Team his investigators did not physically examine the line, instead relying on part on Bunn's report in classifying the death as a homicide. 

Murphy says if the catheter failed for reasons other than human interference, it would be considered an accidental death.

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