As a national provider of healthcare exclusion searches, we work with medical organizations all over the country to ensure they are in compliance with the OIG. OIG healthcare background screenings are somewhat of a box-check in today’s background screening industry, as most people understand that this is a vital and mandatory step in the hiring process for any medical professional.
Today, we wanted to take a look back at an example of WHY these laws and protections are in place, and better understand the OIG background screening process as we know it today.
Who Is Michael Swango?
Joseph Michael Swango is one of the most nightmarish examples of why medical service professionals (MSPs) are required to be registered and vetted through healthcare exclusion lists. As a physician, he would eventually be convicted of four murders, but it is estimated he could have been involved in as many as 60 fatal poisonings of patients and his colleagues.
While working as an ambulance attendant early in college, he would be assigned to do checkups on individual patients who had suffered life-threatening emergencies. At least 5 of those people died.
While working in a surgical internship at Ohio State Medical Center in 1983, nurses began noticing that apparently healthy patients began mysteriously dying. One nurse witnessed him inject a patient with “medicine” who would become strangely ill. Despite warning signs from nurses, he would go back to being an ambulance attendant after not being offered residency.
In 1984, many of the paramedics on staff began noticing that whenever Swango prepared coffee or any food, they would become violently ill. He would be arrested in October of that year, and Police would find arsenic and other poisons in his possession. He would be charged with 5 years of prison time, and this was just the beginning of the story.
A Sentence Too Short
A review by a legal team would demonstrate glaring shortcomings by the investigations of Swango during his time at OSU. Without physical evidence, however, Swango would not serve his entire 5 years, being released early on good behavior.
Following his time in jail, Swango would find work in Newport News, VA at the state career development center. Next, he would work as a laboratory technician for ATICoal, where several employees sought medical attention for persistent increasing stomach pains.
In 1991, he would change his name to Daniel Adams, and apply for a residency program at Ohio Valley Medical Center in West Virginia.
A Career Killer
Next stop? Forged documents that reestablished him as a physician and respected member of society allowed him to take up residency at Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls. As a convicted felon, he would not be able to be granted a medical license, so he went as far as forging a fact sheet from the Illinois Dept. of Corrections, along with a “Restoration of Civil Rights” Letter from the Governor of Virginia.
Swango would establish a sterling reputation at Sanford. His gig wouldn’t last however as he put up a red flag while trying to join the American Medical Association (AMA. A more thorough background check found out about the poisoning conviction, along with a television program that featured a segment on Swango. Despite the AMA’s findings, Swango’s time STILL wasn’t up as a swindler.
Having lost track of the fake Doc and serial killer, he would take up psychiatric residency at SUNY Stony Brook School of Medicine. Once AGAIN, patients began dying for no explicable reasons. Once the word got back to SUNY department heads, he was fired and prior to being forced to resign, put out a warning to all 125 medical schools and all 1,000 teaching hospitals across the nation – effectively blackballing Swango from medical residency in the US.
The federal government was now tracking Swango, and he disappeared until about 1994 when he would be found in Atlanta working as a chemist. The FBI alerted the company and he was immediately fired for lying on his job application. He would be caught attempting to use fraudulent credentials to gain entry to a VA hospital, making this federal.
With one final run using more forged documents in Zimbabwe, unfortunately, the same dark fate was met by patients, beginning to die mysteriously. After a year, Swango would be arrested in Zimbabwe and in 1997 would attempt to apply for a job at a hospital in Saudi Arabia, using a false resume.
Why OIG Healthcare Background Screening Exclusion Matters
It was the hard work of VA OIG Criminal Investigator Tom Valery and forensic psychiatrist Charlene Thomensen MD who would be able to put together enough evidence to finally put Swango behind bars. Because Swango lied on his government application to work at the Department of Veterans Affairs, where he prescribed narcotic medications, this was enough to arrest Swango in Chicago on his way to Saudi Arabia. In March 1998, he would be convicted of defrauding the government and sentenced to 3.5 years in prison.
This would prove just enough time to find enough evidence of multiple former victims over the years, and less than a week before Swango was due to be released from prison, on July 11, 2000, federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint charging him with 3 counts of murder, poisoning and other charges. He would eventually be sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole.
As one of the most prolific serial killers in US history, Michael Swango is a truly terrifying example of why we have healthcare exclusion in place, and why it is so important to stay in compliance. By no means do we wish to use this story to scare anyone into thinking a murderer is applying to the next open position, but looking back historically at these stories helps demonstrate the value in the background screening industry. It’s not something you think of every day, but when a story like this is mentioned, it’s safe to say we are all grateful for the precautions put in place to protect all of us.
If you have any questions about your healthcare background screening process, please give us a call! We are always available to answer your questions and help guide you through the process!