John Ross Baker, center, is flanked by his father, Cherokee Chief Bill John Baker, left, and his mother, Sherry Robertson-Baker, right. Courtesy Facebook.

The Cherokee Nation nurse who possibly exposed nearly 200 patients at the W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah to infectious disease by reusing needles is the son of Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker, The Frontier has learned.

John Ross Baker, 34, possibly exposed patients at the Hastings hospital to bloodborne pathogens such as HIV or Hepatitis C, after reusing needles to inject patients’ IV bags or IV lines, according to multiple sources who spoke to The Frontier on the condition of anonymity.

In a media release late Monday, the Cherokee Nation confirmed Baker was the nurse who breached protocol.

Baker resigned on May 1, and is no longer employed by the tribe or any of its associated entities, the press release stated. The incident has been reported to the Oklahoma Board of Nursing, according to the release.

Cherokee Nation health officials said a “brief lapse in protocol” occurred between January and April, and all 186 patients who were treated by Baker were contacted and offered a free blood testing for pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis C. None of those tests showed positive results, Hastings Hospital CEO Brian Hail told the tribal council’s health committee last week, though the patients will be provided with follow-up tests in six months. So far, 118 of those patients have been tested, according to the tribe.

None of the patients were in physical contact with the needles that were reused on IV bags or IV tubing, Hail said.

“The likelihood of bloodborne pathogens traveling up the lines into the IV bag and causing contaminations is extremely remote,” Hail told the council committee. “Out of an abundance of caution and concern, after consulting with our infectious disease specialist, we recommended that 186 patients return for some laboratory testing as a precaution and for our patients’ peace of mind.”

Baker had just recently received his license as a registered nurse, according to the Oklahoma Board of Nursing. Records show he was issued a registered nurse’s license on June 26, 2017 and the license is still active.

His mother, Sherry Jean Robertson-Baker, posted on Facebook on May 5, 2017, about attending “the pinning ceremony of our son John Ross Baker,” and posted pictures of the Connors State College School of Nursing program.

“So very proud and happy for JR and his devotion and dedication to go back to school after graduating NSU 10 years ago,” she wrote.

Baker gave the invocation at the ceremony announcing his graduation from the program, which was recorded by his mother.

“All the toil and fear and worry and stress of school is behind us,” Baker said during the ceremony. “Now we are hopeful that we are ready to serve, to help give people life. To give people comfort and rest from the afflictions of this fallen world.”

In a statement issued late Monday, Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he was “deeply saddened by these events and my heart aches for everyone involved.

“As a father, it is difficult to witness my son experiencing the pain caused by his actions. His decision to pursue a career in service to others continues to fill me with pride to this day. John’s honesty, cooperation and acceptance of responsibility is representative of his values and the quality of man that he is.”

Despite is relationship to John Ross Baker, Chief Baker said no one is exempt from the rules.

“Rules and procedures throughout our nation apply to everyone equally,” Baker said. “That is most certainly the case here. I want to strongly encourage anyone who sees wrongdoing of any kind throughout our nation to know their voice will be heard and their concerns will be properly addressed.

“I am grateful for the health care workers who helped identify this lapse and their continued service to the Cherokee Nation Health Services and the patients they care for.”

Principal Chief Bill John Baker has appointed Dr. Charles Grim, executive director of Cherokee Nation Health Services and former director of the United States Indian Health Service, to lead a four-person panel made up of medical professionals to review the situation, evaluate best practices and improve medication administration procedures at Cherokee Nation Health Services, the tribe’s press release states.

Chief Baker recused himself from the review to ensure the independence of the panel, and the panel’s report will be made to Deputy Principal Chief Joe Crittenden in August, according to the tribe.

 “Integrity, service and exceptional care are the core values of our remarkable health system,” Dr. Grim said. “Cherokees deserve to have confidence that when they visit one of our facilities they will receive the highest quality care available and that our employees will adhere to best practices.”

Additional legal support for the four-person review committee will be provided by  Cherokee Nation Deputy Attorney General Chrissi Ross Nimmo, the release stated, to ensure that all Cherokee Nation laws are followed throughout the process.

“Cherokee Nation laws and policies prohibit identifying employees in personnel matters,” Nimmo said. “Mr. John Baker has taken the unprecedented step of waiving his legally guaranteed right to employee privacy by agreeing for his name to be released.”

The next nursing board meeting, where the status of Baker’s license could be discussed or any disciplinary measures handed down, is scheduled for July 24 in Oklahoma City, though an agenda for that meeting has yet to be published.

Though he did not name Baker at the time, Hail told the council committee that the nurse who breached protocol is no longer employed at the hospital.

Brian Hail, CEO of Cherokee Nation’s W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, addresses the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council’s Health Committee, June 11, 2018.

During the tribal council’s health committee meeting on June 11, some council members also said they were contacted by constituents who told them that health workers who called them about testing had said the potential contamination had to do with dirty air ducts in hospital. Hail said he too had heard about the issue, and that nurses who were contacting patients were given a very narrow script to work off of and were not told to say anything about dirty air ducts.

“That’s not anything we advised them to say,” Hail said.