Under the Influence: Chicago Nurse Steals Equipment, Performs Procedures at Home

A recent report from the Cook County Health Department reveals that an emergency room nurse, who has yet to be identified, stole equipment from Stroger Hospital in Chicago, IL, so she could perform procedures at home. The report also states that the nurse treated patients while high on a marijuana edible on at least one occasion.

It’s giving a whole new meaning to the term “working from home”.

Scandal at Stroger Hospital

Cook County Independent Inspector General Patrick Blanchard has been looking into the allegations against the ER nurse since the incident first came to light late last year.

The first person to issue a complaint said she was living with her daughter in a home owned by the nurse in question. She says the nurse came over after the woman’s daughter was feeling ill. The nurse offered the woman’s daughter an “IV flush”, and she accepted.

The woman’s daughter’s fiancé also received an IV treatment and recorded the procedure on his phone. All three of them went on to say that the nurse offered to put morphine in the IV drip, a drug she claimed to have stolen from Stroger Hospital.

IG Blanchard quickly launched an investigation into the matter. He recommended that the nurse be fired for her alleged actions, that she should be placed on a “ineligible for hire” list, and that the nursing agency that licensed her should be notified of her actions.

Last week, Deborah Song, a spokeswoman for Cook County Health, said the nurse is no longer employed in its network.

“Based on the evidence, the ER nurse, as a licensed RN, did not have the authority to perform invasive medical procedures outside of a hospital environment absent explicit authorization and/or supervision from a licensed physician,” the report said.

Blanchard interviewed the three individuals who said they received IV treatments outside of the hospital, as well as a nurse manager. He also reviewed several text messages that contained photos and videos of the alleged incident.

One video shows the nurse in question preparing to administer the IV treatment inside the complainant’s home. Another video shows the complainant lying in bed as the nurse prepares an IV drip attached to the wall above her head.

It’s not clear why the complainants received an IV procedure. 

The report also included screenshots of Facebook messages, photos, and videos that the nurse sent while on the job. One photo also shows the nurse holding a gummy with a text that says it is a marijuana edible. The nurse also sent a text describing how it feels to be high while at work in the emergency room.

The nurse said her body started to tingle and feel numb on the job. She wrote that she had to focus while slipping an IV into one of her patient’s arms, even though she continued to brag about being able to insert an IV with one try.

“Omg!!!!! Tingling more now,” the nurse wrote in a private message on social media. “All over!!!!!!” 

She later added, “But im still gettg my ivs on 1st stick.”

In response, spokeswoman Song issued a statement to the public: “Cook County Health works diligently to create a healing environment that is the safest for our patients. We take any allegations seriously and have many safeguards in place to thoroughly investigate matters. The findings are extremely upsetting.”

According to authorities, the nurse has refused to cooperate with the investigation. The report ends by saying the nurse’s conduct “reflects adversely or brings discredit to the hospital.”

Stealing Drugs on the Job

There have been many reports of nurses and other healthcare workers stealing drugs like morphine and fentanyl from their employers. Industry experts believe this kind of behavior may be on the rise, especially during the pandemic.

Kristin Waite-Labott, a nurse in Wisconsin, knows this journey all too well. She had a habit of stealing drugs from the supply cabinet at the hospital where she used to work. Even though her drug paperwork rarely added up, she says it was relatively easy for her to cover her tracks.

She says more often than not, her colleagues were willing to cover for her. “They trusted me,” she said. “Unfortunately, I was taking advantage of that trust and that happens all the time.”

She later lost her job and spent time in jail before regaining her nursing license.

Kimberly New, an expert on medical drug misuse, says this behavior is often referred to “diversion”. It’s when a nurse takes medications that are meant for the patient.

“Patients will be left to linger in pain and not receive the doses that they were supposed to receive,” New said. “The diverter has progressed to the point where they’re no longer willing to share with the patients.”

Tracking the rate of theft at work can be difficult, but the Joint Commission, a nonprofit that provides accreditation to thousands of hospitals and clinics, issued a warning last year that “only a fraction of those who are diverting drugs are ever caught.”

Be on the lookout for diversion as more nurses look for a way to cope during this pandemic. 

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