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A Brazilian doctor charged with murdering seven hospital patients is now being investigated in connection with hundreds more similar cases of suspicious deaths.
A team led by health ministry investigator Mario Lobato is re-examining the 1,872 deaths that took place over the past seven years in the intensive care unit led by 56-year-old Virginia Soares de Souza.
So far, "20 suspicious cases have already been processed at the request of the prosecutor's office for investigation," said Paula Brisola, head of the Nucrisa specialized civilian police unit handling health crimes.
But she said 300 other cases at the Evangelical hospital in the southern city of Curitiba were under scrutiny and could be also be probed.
De Souza was freed on bail on March 20 after being held for one month. She has denied all the charges against her.
"I was never negligent, careless. I was never blamed for ethical violations and I practiced medicine in a conscientious and correct manner," she told Globo on Sunday.
Three doctors and two nurses from the same unit have also been charged with the murder of seven patients since 2006, while a physiotherapist and a nurse face lesser charges.
Police obtained testimonies and wiretaps showing that de Souza prescribed or administered medication that caused the patients to die from asphyxiation, according to the prosecution.
The health ministry ordered a probe, focused initially on 300 cases deemed suspicious by relatives, patients cited in police wiretaps or "when drugs were used outside the parameters for clinical treatment of the patients," a spokesman told AFP.
De Souza's lawyer Elias Mattar scoffed at Lobato's figures on deaths in the intensive care unit, accusing the investigator of "sensationalism."
"Does that mean that nobody died from causes resulting from their own condition?" he asked in an interview. "That would be a unique case worldwide.
"Whatever was administered to the patients was in the medical records. Could an ill-intentioned doctor write down all the evidence of a crime? That would be absurd," said Mattar.
He added that his client was a woman "destroyed socially and psychologically. She can't go out on the street because she is seen as worse than a doctor of Hitler," he added.
The investigation began two years ago after former hospital employees and relatives of the patients reported allegedly suspicious deaths.
Globo television aired recordings in which de Souza said she wanted "to decongest" the unit. "Unfortunately, it is our role to be the springboard to the other world," she said in another recording.