WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal authorities are looking into three closely bunched incidents in which people posing as inspectors were caught nosing around hospitals in Boston, Detroit and Los Angeles.
No arrests have been made and there is no evidence to suggest that the cases are linked or that there is a tie to terror groups, federal officials said.
"We do not possess any specific intelligence that there is a terrorism nexus to these reports," Homeland Security spokeswoman Kathleen Montgomery said Friday.
But the department is monitoring the incidents through local law enforcement authorities and FBI agents also have been called in, officials said.
The hospitals, which officials refused to identify, reported the cases in late February and early March to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, which evaluates 4,500 hospitals in the United States. Commission surveyors often turn up unannounced to look at records, observe patient care and visit parts of hospitals that are closed to the public.
A federal law enforcement official and commission executives said it is not uncommon for people to seek entry to hospitals in search of drugs or medical supplies. The commission also has seen attempts by relatives of patients to seek faster access to care, said commission spokeswoman Charlene Hill.
But the recent incidents were unusual both because they occurred so close to one another and did not appear to be related to patient care. "That's what prompted our concern," Hill said.
The commission alerted authorities and hospitals, and reminded hospital executives that legitimate inspectors follow established procedures and are instructed to answer questions when hospital personnel challenge them, said Joe Cappiello, the commission's vice president for accreditation/field operations.
In the first instance, a well-dressed man and woman in their mid-30s showed up in the middle of the night at a Los Angeles hospital with badges that resemble those carried by commission inspectors. They left when questioned by hospital staff.
Three days later, a bearded man in his 30s or 40s of either South Asian or Middle Eastern origin was confronted at a Boston hospital. He, too, departed when questioned.
On March 10, a middle-aged woman who identified herself as a commission inspector fled a Detroit hospital's maternity ward when confronted.
None of the commision's 350 to 400 surveyors was scheduled to visit the three hospitals on thse days, Hill said.
Inspectors are supposed to report to hospital security or the front desk when they arrive, Capiello said. They carry a letter signed by the organization's executive vice president and accredited hospitals also can sign on to a secure Web site to compare inspectors' badges with a facsimile posted there, Hill said.
On the Net:
Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations: http://www.jcaho.org