Federal authorities have arrested Richardson anesthesiologist Dr. Raynaldo Ortiz Jr. on criminal charges of tampering with a consumer product causing death, and intentional drug adulteration. Ortiz most recently practiced at Baylor Scott & White Health Surgicare North Dallas, where several adverse events during routine procedures led the outpatient center to pause operations.
Ortiz allegedly injected nerve-blocking agents and other drugs into IV bags at the outpatient surgery center. Over the summer, several Surgicare patients had adverse cardiac events after routine surgeries required patients to be transferred to full-service hospitals. Some of those patients required time in the intensive care unit. Ortiz was caught on surveillance footage placing IV bags in warmers outside their operating rooms before several patients had cardiac events.
In August, an 18-year-old patient experienced a cardiac emergency during a routine sinus surgery. He needed to be intubated and spent time in an ICU. The IV bag used during his surgery contained bupivacaine along with the stimulant epinephrine and the heart medicine lidocaine. These drugs could have caused those problems. His lawyer says he represents four other clients who had similar reactions after routine operations at Surgicare.
That incident caused investigators to look back at the death of a 55-year-old anesthesiologist named Melanie Kaspar, who worked at the center and died after taking an IV bag of saline solution to administer at home.
Her initial cause of death was a heart attack. Following an autopsy, the Dallas County Medical Examiner found the presence of bupivacaine, a nerve-blocking agent used during anesthesia that can be deadly when misused. Many IV bags used by patients with adverse reactions during surgery also had traces of anesthesia drugs that shouldn’t have been present. Additionally, several IV bags at the center had holes poked into them.
Surgical center personnel told authorities about suspected tampering with the IV bags, and they discovered 10 additional patients who experienced unexpected cardiac emergencies during routine surgeries between May and August 2022. In each case, emergency measures were used to stabilize the patients, and the incidents occurred during longer surgeries that required more than one IV bag. The extra IV bags were brought into the surgery from the warmers where Ortiz had placed the bags.
A nurse who worked with Ortiz allegedly told authorities that Ortiz refused to use an IV bag she had retrieved from the warmer during one of his surgeries. Surveillance video allegedly shows Ortiz go from an operating room to place a bag in a warmer, visually scan the hallway, and quickly walk away from the warmer. An hour later, the complaint says a 56-year-old woman suffered a cardiac emergency during a routine cosmetic surgery that involved using a bag from the warmer.
In another instance, agents say Ortiz left his operating room with an IV bag concealed by what looked like a paper folder, swapped the bag with another one from the warmer, and walked away. Half an hour later, a 54-year-old woman also suffered a cardiac emergency during a cosmetic surgery. An IV bag from the warmer was also used in that surgery.
The incidents began just days after Ortiz was notified of a disciplinary inquiry from a previous surgery years earlier where another patient experienced a medical emergency. The complaint says that the cardiac events never occurred during surgeries when Ortiz was the anesthesiologist. They only happened when Ortiz worked at the surgery center and not when he was on vacation.
Ortiz had a lengthy criminal and disciplinary record before being hired by Baylor Scott & White Surgicare North Dallas. He had been arrested multiple times for domestic violence. His privileges were revoked at least one other surgery center. He also spent time in jail after shooting a neighbor’s dog. That neighbor had helped a woman escape from Ortiz, court records show. He had been fined multiple times and disciplined for not notifying employers of past disciplinary action.
Last week, the Texas Medical Board suspended his license, but he was previously allowed to practice despite his criminal record, outcomes, and past discipline from the board.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office believes these incidents were limited to Ortiz and that it is safe to have anesthesia in Dallas.
“Our complaint alleges this defendant surreptitiously injected heart-stopping drugs into patient IV bags, decimating the Hippocratic oath,” said U.S. Attorney Chad E. Meacham in a release. “A single incident of seemingly intentional patient harm would be disconcerting; multiple incidents are truly disturbing.”
Baylor Scott & White released the below statement on Thursday afternoon:
“There is nothing more important than the safety and well-being of those we serve. We actively assisted local and federal authorities in their investigation and will continue to do so; we also remain focused on communicating with patients. We have created a dedicated phone line for patients with questions: 214-818-2794. We will continue to limit our comments as this is an active investigation.”