Glendale Adventist Hospital and the Angel of Death – Part 1
Respiratory therapists are often critical to the recovery of serious illnesses, including recovery from COVID-19. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a nasty episode in the history of our community in which a respiratory therapist at Glendale Adventist between 1988 and 1998 eased many of his near-terminal patients into early death. Efrin Saldivar, who killed an untold number of his patients, saw himself as an “angel of death.”
The term “angel of death” refers to something or someone who helps the living pass on to death. It has its obvious origins in religion. But there is a real-world history of health care workers who have taken on the role of angels of death. There are indeed some cases of nurses or doctors who have actively pushed their patients through “death’s door.” Some have done it out of mercy, some for profit, others for the sheer thrill. In the case of Saldivar, his stated reasons for the murders changed several times, from ethical anger at seeing patients kept alive beyond the point of dignity all the way to the inconvenience of having too many patients assigned to him.
Efrin Saldivar had an unremarkable childhood and education. After high school, he enrolled in a technical school for respiratory therapy, initially because he liked the idea of wearing a uniform and having technical responsibilities. Turns out he had a knack for the position. He was competent and, better yet, he enjoyed interacting with his patients. He lived with his parents in Tujunga and starting in 1989, worked the graveyard shift at Glendale Adventist. At night he was largely unsupervised, able to slip in and out of patients’ rooms unnoticed.
Those who worked with Saldivar started to notice that a lot of patients seemed to expire while he was on duty. It didn’t ring any alarm bells as all of those who died were on the edge of death anyway, and it seemed just dumb luck that it happened so often with Saldivar. Nonetheless, it became a dark joke with the staff that Saldivar had the “magic touch.”
Things went along without a hitch for several years. By the spring of 1997, a fellow respiratory therapist got suspicious enough to bring it up with his supervisor. He suggested that maybe Saldivar was injecting something into his patients. But there was no proof and personality clashes between Saldivar and this fellow worker were well known. Still, rumors began to spread.
The staff members on graveyard shift were practical jokers. In early 1998, intending to prank Saldivar, they pried open his work locker. Inside the locker they noticed syringes and vials of medication that could be lethal if administered improperly. They knew that Saldivar was not supposed to have the medication in his locker but they also knew they weren’t supposed to be breaking into other people’s lockers, and were worried about repercussions. They also were aware that suspicions had been raised about Saldivar the year before and nothing had come of it. They decided to stay quiet about what they had seen.
One of the practical jokers was out drinking a few nights later and told the whole story to a man in the bar, even mentioning Saldivar’s name. That guy thought maybe he could angle to make a few bucks off a tip to the hospital. He called his tip into Glendale Adventist. This time the hospital called the police.
Homicide detectives at Glendale PD met with the hospital administrators and tracked down the tip caller. The tip caller was a small-time criminal who was hoping the hospital would pay him off to keep quiet and he denied calling. A dead end. It would have been easy for the detectives to drop the case right there but to their credit they stayed with the investigation. They chased down some of the rumors going around the hospital about Saldivar and his “magic touch.” The detectives decided to question Saldivar just to see what would happen, expecting another dead end. But that was not the case.
Next week we’ll hear Saldivar’s amazing confession.