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Nurses in maggot-infested ICU sprayed patients with "Off!" bug spray, feds say

Nurses in a maggot-infested Chicago intensive care unit sprayed patients with bug spray in a desperate attempt to keep flies at bay, federal prosecutors say.

The latest allegations of substandard care at the now-closed Sacred Heart Hospital on the West Side emerged this week in court filings ahead of the fraud trial next month of the hospital’s owner, two hospital administrators and a doctor.

Hospital owner Edward Novak and a string of doctors are accused of ripping off Medicare and Medicaid in a kickback scheme to pay doctors for patient referrals to the hospital, which closed down after a high-profile federal raid last year.

But prosecutors say they also want to introduce evidence that the hospital had a maggot infestation in 2009. They want to show jurors emails and witness testimony indicating that, “to keep the flies at bay, nurses were instructed to spray ICU patients with ‘Off!’ bug repellant,” court papers state.

Prosecutors also made new claims against the hospital’s surgeon, Dr. Vittorio Guerriero, who another doctor allegedly said always wanted to cut patients “like a butcher.”

That allegation harks back to ghoulish claims made last year by feds in a search warrant application, which alleged that Guerriero performed unnecessary tracheotomies, at Novak’s urging. Some of those patients died soon after.

Both Novak and Guerriero’s attorneys angrily denied those claims, which have not led to any criminal charges, but are the subject of a pending civil lawsuit brought by plaintiffs, including relatives of patients who died.

In the meantime, Novak, administrators Roy Payawal and Clarence Nagelvoort, and Dr. Venkateswara Kuchipudi are due to stand trial January 26 on criminal charges connected to the alleged kickback scheme. Kuchipudi — allegedly nicknamed the “King of the Nursing Homes” — is accused of referring patients to Sacred Heart’s emergency room from all over Chicago, even though he knew they didn’t need that level of care, and that there were better and closer options.

The case against Kuchipudi and his co-defendants was bolstered Tuesday by guilty pleas from two doctors, Noemi Velgara and Anthony J. Puorro, who both agreed to cooperate against their former colleagues.

Several other doctors allegedly connected to the scheme are due to stand trial on their own.