National News

St. Louis nurse accused of stealing narcotics, putting 80 patient's health at risk

Posted November 14, 2017 11:43 a.m. EST

— After undergoing back surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in early 2017, Mark Barbre received a surprising letter from the hospital in May.

The letter begins "We are writing to you with important information about an issue involving your personal health information."

According to the letter signed by Barnes-Jewish Chief Medical Officer the hospital "identified a concern that a former staff nurse was stealing narcotic medications intended for patients."

The investigation identified "circumstantial evidence that the nurse in question may have replaced a narcotic medication (hydromorphone) with sterile saline (salt walter)."

According to a hospital spokesperson, 80 patients were contacted.

In Barbre's case the nurse in question was not assigned to his care, but he remembers her entering his room.

"I had a nurse come in and change out the bag and there was some confusion," Barbre recalls.

He also says the nurse's behavior was odd.

"She started jumping around the room doing kicks" and when she changed Barbre's IV "she didn't have gloves on. Blood was on her hands. It was on me. I said don't you want to use universal precautions. She said 'job hazard."'

In the letter sent to Barbre it states, "If the nurse did indeed remove the drug from your IV pump and replace it with sterile saline during your care, this also means there is a remote risk of infection due to cross-contamination."

The hospital offered free follow-up laboratory testing to ensure there was no infection.

Barbre says the hospital tested him for HIV and Hepatitis, but fortunately, no infection was found.

He plans to get a second round of testing done and encourages anyone that received the letter to do the same.

A spokesperson with Barnes-Jewish Hospital emphasized that there's been no evidence of infections resulting from the incident.

The hospital released the following statement to News 4.

This spring, Barnes-Jewish Hospital investigated an incident in which an employee was suspected of willfully diverting pain medications intended for patients and replacing the medication with a sterile saline solution.

At this point, we have no evidence of any adverse impact on patients, other than the potential under dosing of pain medications. However, because the pain medication was removed from a pump device, there was a remote risk of infection.

As stated in our letter, the employee in question was not assigned to this patient's care. However, as a precaution, we offered any patient who could have been affected follow-up laboratory testing at no charge to assure there was no infection or other risk to their health. A total of 80 patients were offered testing.

We want to emphasize that we have found no evidence of any infections resulting from this incident. Barnes-Jewish Hospital terminated this employee's employment and reported the event to the appropriate oversight agencies. We also immediately launched our own internal investigation and took steps to further strengthen our patient safeguards.

News 4 contacted the Missouri State Board of Nursing to inquire about the incident. A spokesperson for the agency could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. According to the spokesperson (pursuant to Missouri statutes 324.017 and 324.001.8) complaints and the investigative documents are closed records.

The Board of Nursing publishes a list of revoked licenses in a quarterly newsletter, but none of the revoked licenses examined by News 4 matched the incident described.

News 4 also ran a criminal background check on every nurse facing disciplinary action beginning in March of 2017, but found no criminal charges related to the incident described.

Hospitals have various options for background checks when hiring nurses, but without a name, News 4 couldn't confirm any disciplinary action (other than termination) taken against the nurse.

According to the Missouri State Board of Nursing, "The board of nursing does not keep records on where licensees are employed."