Police probe poisoning deaths at Japanese hospital for the elderly
Authorities in Japan are investigating the poisoning deaths of two elderly patients at a hospital specialising in terminal-stage care.
Oguchi Hospital in Yokohama has had a higher death rate in recent months, sparking speculation that the poisoning may have been systematic and more widespread.
The case surfaced on September 20 when the hospital informed police of a possible poisoning after an 88-year-old man who died while receiving an intravenous injection. Police confirmed Nobuo Yamaki's IV solution had been contaminated with a disinfectant.
He turned out to be the second victim. Police rushed to obtain the body of his former room-mate, who had died two days earlier, before it was cremated and a post-motrtem examination showed he had been poisoned with the same chemical.
Hospital staff also found tiny puncture marks in 10 of about 50 intravenous bags stored at the nursing station on the fourth floor, which handles the terminally ill.
A lawyer for the hospital, Yuki Uehara,said 46 other patients had died on the same floor from July 1 to September 20.
The fourth floor can handle up to 42 patients at a time, and normally about half die while hospitalised, Mr Uehara said. Including the two recent deaths, the 48 exceeded 60%, above average but not an abnormal spike, he said.
Hospital chief Yoichi Takahashi said last month: "We see many people pass away due to the nature of this hospital, but I had an impression that the number of deaths was somewhat larger than usual."
He said his biggest concern was a massive infection, but that possibility was ruled out after checking. When asked, he said he could not rule out criminal activity.
Mr Uehara said the hospital had been admitting patients who are more seriously ill than usual, which could also explain the higher death rate.
In July, Yokohama officials received an anonymous email about suspicious incidents at the hospital - nurses' aprons torn, a bottled drink laced with bleach and a patient's card missing.
Tetsuo Hama, manager of the city's medical affairs department, said officials had thought they were internal harassment cases.