Serial Killer Gets Prime Time Audience

Basically, he blamed others for letting him get away with what he’d done. He said that some of his bosses had known the errors that he made that harmed patients, but they’d overlooked them. 

Cullen claimed that he had killed patients to end their suffering, which at first blush seemed viable, since he’d often been around critical-care and burn-ward patients. However, as the cases were opened and people were named, it became clear that a number of patients were not suffering and some had even been on the mend when he decided to take their lives. 

In addition, he’d put insulin into IV bags stored in a closet, apparently just to see what would happen (although the hospital in question later said they’d found no evidence for this claim). He doesn’t even know if the contaminated IVs brought anyone harm, but clearly this had nothing to do with mercy. It was malicious mischief, pure and simple.

One of his MOs was to get medications by opening patients’ drawers or closets, because no one tracked the drugs. When electronic drug tracking was put into place, he simply learned how to manipulate computer records. He left “tracks,” but no one noticed until he made a mistake. There was no system in place for making people who got the drugs accountable for them. 

In another place, he recalled, a storage room for drugs was never locked and it was easy for him to pilfer them.  He claimed he threw away thousands of dollars worth of pharmaceuticals, but no one seemed to notice. 

Cullen also said he’d wanted to quit but had bills to pay and children to support. Yet he made no mention of attempting to look for another line of work. Even his counselor thought he should stop nursing, he said, because he wasn’t dealing with his depression very well. He felt he had no choice but to keep doing what he was doing.

He mentioned that he thought that patients were being treated as nonhumans, and this was so difficult for him to watch that he decided to end their suffering. “I couldn’t stop myself,” he said.  “I just couldn’t stop.” (He will say so to Steve Kroft as well.)

Forensic nurse Beatrice Yorker has studied healthcare serial killers like Cullen, and she doesn’t buy his motive. “These people are sociopaths mostly interested in getting their own needs met,” she says. “I liken them to firefighters who set fires. Often what they need is power and control or excitement and attention.”

Cullen has even offered advice – a rather ironic gesture in light of his deeds. In June 2005, several newspapers published the results of a long interview with Cullen in which he told healthcare institutions how to make it more difficult for people like him to do what he did. In short, he said, there should be protocols for accountability for staff and for drug-handling procedures. 

Among them would be installing surveillance cameras, the use of swipe cards and bar codes, and a daily count of lethal medications. He also said there should be a national database for updating employment history of healthcare workers. Institutions should pass information along to one another, Cullen advised, and hospitals should pay attention to the mental health of their employees.

Poor performance such as his should be reported to the state board of nursing. The best deterrent, one of his listeners interpreted him to mean, is the certainty of detection.

In his various responses, Cullen’s personality is clear: He blames others. He holds hospital administrators responsible for not stopping him or reporting him. He blames the way hospitals operate, which is to say, he exploited the trust factor present in places where employees have patient wellbeing as a goal: it was their fault, not his, for being so gullible.

I suspect that his 60 Minutes interview will offer nothing that he hasn’t already said. It’s just another opportunity for him to deflect responsibility.

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