By Brett Kelman, Tennessee Lookout
April 14, 2022
Overall health officers in at minimum three states are investigating a vacation nurse suspected of tampering with and potentially contaminating vials and syringes of opioid painkillers in two hospitals, then returning the vials to treatment cupboards the place they could be unknowingly supplied to people.
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Just one hundred individuals who could have been exposed to contaminated syringes previous yr at Johnson Metropolis Health care Middle in Tennessee ended up urged to get tested for hepatitis and HIV, according to point out paperwork acquired by KHN through a public data request.
The files also reveal that Raleigh Standard Hospital in West Virginia this calendar year gave vials to regulation enforcement to take a look at for proof of tampering. Individuals final results have not been produced public.
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The vacation nurse, Jacqueline Brewster, 52, of Belfry, Kentucky, was arrested by her regional sheriff’s business office on undisclosed expenses Tuesday in response to a fugitive warrant from Washington County, Tennessee, where by the allegations of tampering began, in accordance to jail and court docket data.
Brewster was released Wednesday with orders to report to Tennessee within just 10 days.
“I did not run away from anything at all,” Brewster mentioned in court. “I will not know how I’m a fugitive.”
In accordance to documents submitted by Tennessee and West Virginia overall health authorities with their respective nursing boards, Brewster is suspected of regularly opening medical center medicine cabinets to withdraw vials or syringes of an opioid painkiller, Dilaudid, allegedly eliminating some of the drug to both use or steal, and then returning the vials or syringes, potentially right after gluing a cap back on. The CEO of a single of the afflicted healthcare facility techniques alleged in an interview with KHN that the vacation nurse extra another liquid to syringes — probably in an try to address her tracks.
The allegations versus Brewster, which have not been beforehand reported, appear at a time when the coronavirus pandemic pressured a lot of U.S. hospitals to count much more than ever on vacation nurses, who generally cross point out traces to get the job done months-prolonged stints in brief-staffed hospitals. As the virus flooded hospitals with people and worsened nursing shortages, quite a few hospitals turned to journey nurses to fill the gaps, generally at a considerably enhanced charge.
But “desperation” to recruit nurses also exacerbated present flaws in the government infrastructure meant to maintain nurses accountable, stated John Benson, co-founder of Verisys, a knowledge management enterprise that researches opportunity workforce for health and fitness treatment methods.
Brewster is suspected of repeatedly opening clinic medicine cupboards to withdraw vials or syringes of an opioid painkiller, Dilaudid, allegedly eliminating some of the drug to either use or steal, and then returning the vials or syringes, quite possibly after gluing a cap back on.
Nurses and other professional medical specialists are certified, investigated, and disciplined at the point out degree. But investigators never communicate very well across state lines, Benson claimed, so as a lot more nurses commenced to vacation during the pandemic, it grew to become easier to “outrun” investigations by getting a new task in one more state extensive before allegations of wrongdoing grew to become general public.
“The procedure was broken in advance of covid,” Benson claimed. “It just received much more damaged throughout covid.”
Brewster, a registered nurse, has been licensed in Kentucky given that 2004 and holds a license allowing her to operate in more than 30 states that participate in the Nurse Licensure Compact.
Immediately after she was accused of tampering at Raleigh General previous thirty day period, the West Virginia nursing board suspended Brewster’s means to observe in the state. Days afterwards, Tennessee wellness officials acted on a grievance they acquired from Johnson Metropolis Medical Heart previous July, launching a expert disciplinary continuing that could revoke Brewster’s means to operate in that condition later on this 12 months.
As of Wednesday, Brewster’s multistate license was “under investigation” in Kentucky but usually unrestricted, meaning she could still get the job done as a nurse in most of the place. It is unfamiliar the place else Brewster could possibly have labored as a journey nurse, such as in the 7 months soon after she was 1st accused of tampering in Tennessee.
Brewster could not be achieved for remark and it is unclear whether she has an attorney. A Knoxville lawyer stated as Brewster’s legal professional in documents submitted with the Tennessee Board of Nursing denied representing the nurse.
She was eliminating the Dilaudid and replacing it with another compound that appeared clear like Dilaudid, and replacing the vials in the Omnicell technique. A person of our other nurses found that one thing appeared unique in one of the vials and notified the pharmacy quickly.
– Alan Levine, CEO, Ballad Wellness
One clinic that became closely dependent on journey nurses through the pandemic was Johnson Town Health-related Centre. Ballad Wellness, which owns the medical center, mentioned final summer season the pandemic elevated the variety of travel nurses the company used from about 150 to 400.
Brewster was amongst people hired. She was utilized by Jackson Nurse Experts, a travel nurse firm in Orlando, Florida, and labored at the Johnson Metropolis Professional medical Centre for three months before the alleged tampering was learned, according to the records.
Ballad Overall health CEO Alan Levine instructed KHN another nurse flagged a suspicious vial in the hospital’s professional medical cupboard, and an inner investigation linked the vial to Brewster.
“She was taking away the Dilaudid and replacing it with one more compound that appeared very clear like Dilaudid, and replacing the vials in the Omnicell method,” Levine stated. “Just one of our other nurses noticed that a little something seemed unique in just one of the vials and notified the pharmacy right away.”
Ballad Well being fired Brewster and alerted legislation enforcement and the Tennessee Department of Overall health, in accordance to a statement from the business. It sent 5 Dilaudid syringes to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s criminal offense lab, which confirmed the volume of medicine inside was “inconsistent with the manufacturer’s label,” in accordance to the nursing board paperwork.
The clinic reported that it also attempted to give Brewster a drug exam. She originally furnished an insufficient urine sample, the paperwork allege, and then just after supplying a next sample Brewster “accused the lab technician of remaining corrupt,” grabbed the sample out of his hand, and dumped it down the sink.
“This is my *** [sic],” Brewster stated as she took back again the sample, according to the paperwork.
The Tennessee Department of Wellbeing submitted the experienced disciplinary case towards Brewster with the Board of Nursing on March 31. She is scheduled to appear Aug. 24 at a board hearing and challenges losing her nursing license.
At some level, immediately after she was fired from Johnson Town Health care Middle, Brewster started to get the job done at Raleigh Normal, an unrelated healthcare facility about 120 miles to the north in Beckley, West Virginia.
Past thirty day period, the medical center noted to the West Virginia nursing board that Dilaudid vials in its medicine cupboards appeared to have been tampered with, according to a board order suspending Brewster’s license. Some vials have been lacking tops and others had tops marked with a residue that “looked like glue,” the board alleges.
At the time again, an internal investigation “led straight” to Brewster, according to the board get.
Raleigh Typical “disposed of quite a few vials of Dilaudid in order to shield individuals from contamination” and delivered some vials to regulation enforcement for testing. Effects have not been disclosed.
Jackson Nurse Professionals did not reply to requests for remark. It is unclear no matter if Brewster however works for the enterprise.
Raleigh Common Hospital in West Virginia released a statement that it was still investigating Brewster and cooperating with authorities but declined to reply concerns about the case.
(KHN (Kaiser Wellness News) is a countrywide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about wellness challenges. Together with Policy Evaluation and Polling, KHN is 1 of the a few main functioning applications at KFF (Kaiser Loved ones Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit corporation furnishing facts on overall health problems to the country.)
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