Victims react to sentence in Perry mammogram case

bpurser@macon.comApril 19, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- The day Sharon Holmes found a lump in her left breast after her mammogram results were negative, her life changed.

“I was scared, angry and hurt,” said Holmes, a wife and mother who lives in Perry. “I knew I had a long road ahead of me. The pain and the suffering I have endured didn’t have to happen.

“I thought early detection meant saving lives, not giving you a life sentence of pain and suffering, and this is what it has given me and my family.”

Holmes was one of 10 victims named in a Houston County indictment accusing former radiology technician Rachael Rapraeger of entering negative results for more than 1,000 mammograms at Perry Hospital from late January 2009 to early April 2010 that were not read by a radiologist.

The 10 women named all actually had cancer, prosecutors have said. Perry Hospital is operated by Houston Healthcare System Inc., which has maintained that Rapraeger acted alone. Two of the women named in the indictment have since died.

On Tuesday, Rapraeger was sentenced to up to six months in a probation-detention facility after pleading guilty in Superior Court to one count of felony computer forgery and 10 counts of misdemeanor reckless conduct. The other nine felony computer forgery counts were dismissed as part of the negotiated plea.

Holmes had a problem with that.

“If I have to deal with this for the rest of my life, I think she should be behind bars dealing with it also,” said Holmes, whose malignant tumor grew undetected for about three months after the falsified report.

Before discovering the lump, Holmes said she had no symptoms. She underwent surgery as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

“I don’t think what she got was right,” Holmes said.

Neither does Lula Thomas, 72, of Perry who was among the victims listed in the indictment. Thomas said she had one breast removed rather than undergo chemotherapy and radiation.

“She didn’t receive enough punishment,” Thomas said. “She didn’t get enough time. ... She damaged a lot of people’s lives.”

Mary Brown, 78, also named in the indictment, said she has no hard feelings.

Brown opted to have both breasts removed rather than undergo chemotherapy or radiation. But other than a couple of nights in the hospital and having to take a pill for several years, Brown said she’s been fortunate.

She said it hasn’t even seemed like she’s had cancer.

“Whatever problem she had, she brought it on herself,” Brown said. “Really, I don’t have no hard feelings. Maybe I would, just like I said, if I had not come out as a good as I did.”

The crime

So how and why did Rapraeger falsify so many test results, and how was it discovered? Prosecutor Dan Bibler outlined it this way at the hearing.

As a radiology technician at Perry Hospital, Rapraeger’s job was to enter mammogram findings made by a radiologist into the medical records of various patients, Bibler said.

Following a mammogram, a radiologist would review the films, make a diagnosis of either positive complications such as tumors, or negative, meaning the radiologist found no complications, Bibler said. The diagnosis would then be entered by the radiologist into the hospital’s computer system and the results sent to the patient.

In April 2010, Rapraeger’s supervisor asked her about a discrepancy in a mammogram report Rapraeger had entered. A patient had a mammogram at another site, and the results were positive. The same patient had previously taken a mammogram at Perry Hospital three months earlier and received a negative test result allegedly from a radiologist, Bibler said.

Upon closer inspection, Bibler said, it was discovered that specific radiologist was not at Perry Hospital that day and, as a result, could not have done the reading.

Hospital administrators conducted an audit of the computer system and found about 30 mammogram reports were entered into a specific terminal within a five-minute period, Bibler said.

It was determined that Rapraeger used this terminal, and no radiologist could have used it because there were no light boxes nearby where the films could be studied, Bibler said.

As a result of the audit, officials determined Rapraeger entered “over 900, a possibility of a 1,000 or more” findings that a radiologist did not review.

“Of course (Rapraeger), a technician, is not qualified to give any kind of diagnosis. She’s responsible only for entering the findings made by the radiologist,” Bibler said.

The hospital confronted her, and she was terminated, Bibler said. Perry police were notified for further investigation as to possible prosecution, he said.

In her interview with police, Rapraeger “stated in full admission that she had had some personal issues in her life causing her to become disinterested in her job.

“As a result, she allowed a backlog of mammogram cases to accumulate and decided to close them by entering negative findings acting as a radiologist,” Bibler said.

Rapraeger also told police “she didn’t think she was doing anything wrong, didn’t consider the consequences until she found out that a patient actually had cancer,” Bibler said.

Floyd Buford, her Macon attorney, said in an interview that Rapraeger was responsible for performing the mammogram and then either creating a file jacket for a new patient or updating an old file jacket. She was then expected to walk the file with the mammogram film down the hall and give it a radiologist to read. The number of mammograms varied, but the most she completed, along with other duties, was about 15 a day, he said.

The process of creating or updating the file jackets was apparently extremely time consuming for Rapraeger, who chose instead to enter the negative results over a period of months using the radiologist PIN numbers given to her by hospital staff rather than provide the radiologist with the films, Buford said.

Rapraeger became overwhelmed, the hospital did not give her assistance, she couldn’t keep up with her workload and she didn’t want to lose her job, Buford said.

Buford said he does not know what happened to the films.

Also, the hospital destroyed the mammogram machine she used and the hard drive of her computer, he said.

Rapraeger earned a two-year certificate from a technical school to serve as a radiology technician after finishing high school, Buford said.

“She deeply regrets her actions. ... She is extremely remorseful,” Buford said.

When asked for comment, Houston Healthcare released this statement Friday from CEO Cary Martin:

“Representatives for Houston Healthcare attended the hearing this week for Rachael Rapraeger, former Perry Hospital employee, who was indicted for her actions related to producing mammogram reports to patients that had not been read and interpreted by a radiologist. At that hearing, Mrs. Rapraeger, represented by her attorney Floyd Buford, agreed to a negotiated plea deal. We are pleased this component of Ms. Rapraeger’s unfortunate action is concluded.”

The plea

When negotiating the plea agreement, Bibler said he considered Rapraeger’s lack of criminal history and her willingness to admit her actions up front to police and in court.

Bibler also cited “the evidentiary difficulties which both sides recognize” but declined to elaborate. He acknowledged some of the issues raised by Buford concerning the absence of nine of the 10 mammogram films for which Rapraeger was accused of falsifying results.

Buford said fraud would have been difficult to prove without the original films had the case gone to trial. He was also troubled that the computer hard drive and mammogram machine were destroyed.

“If we had the hard drive, we could have gone back and re-analyzed exactly what she did (and) when she did it,” Buford said. “We don’t have that.”

Also, computer fraud is a relatively new crime, Buford said, with state laws better suited to handle armed robberies and other such crimes, he said.

“This was just not a cut-and-dry, normal run-of-the-mill criminal case,” Buford said.

Rapraeger remains free on a $50,000 bond pending a space opening in a probation-detention facility. She will serve about nine years and six months on probation upon release from the facility. She also received first-offender status, which means her convictions will come off her record if she successfully completes her probation.

Also, more than 30 civil lawsuits have been filed against her and Houston Healthcare System. Some have settled out of court, with most pending trial.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service