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Mar 6, 2013 7:21 PM by Jacqui Heinrich,

Drugs going missing in local hospitals

August 2009 was a terrifying time for the 5,000 patients who went through surgery at Rose Medical Center in Denver and the 12,000 patients who went through the Audubon Surgery Center in Colorado Springs. Former surgery technician Kristin Parker stole the painkiller fentanyl from patients, injected herself with the drug, then put the syringes back filled with saline. Thousands had to be screened for Hepatitis C, the incurable and deadly virus she was infected with. Three dozen people got the disease.

"People will be sick for the rest of their lives because of me," Parker said during her police interrogation. "Sometimes I'd wait until I got home, sometimes I'd do it on my lunch break. I guess it just depended."

The incident drew national attention to the problem of 'drug diversion'-- when drugs go missing in hospitals. Patients became victims, but so did doctors like anesthesiologist Sherry Gorman; she was sued for medical malpractice after her patients became infected by Kristin Parker's hand. "It was devastating to think that something like that could happen at an institution where I worked. I've never been one to say 'hey, who are you' but now I do, who are you what are you doing in my operating room," Gorman said.

It's a question more people should be asking. Despite the thousands of people affected by the Kristin Parker case, drug diversion is still happening in our hospitals. In Pueblo and Colorado Springs alone, there were 15 separate incidents over the course of last year: 1 at Memorial Hospital and 3 at Penrose St. Francis Hospital in the Springs, 3 at St. Mary Corwin Hospital and 8 at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo.

News 5 asked hospital reps how this could still be happening and what's being done about it; St Mary Corwin and St. Francis Hospitals sent us a statement (full text below), saying they take the problem seriously and have prevention measures in place, but didn't exactly confirm an investigation. The Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo-- with the most offenses of the group-- also responded, saying they're seeking full prosecution when a suspect is identified (full text below). Only Memorial Hospital could confirm they'd figured out who was behind the missing drugs; in this case, a former physician who got away with stealing drugs until he was caught and fired.

"You can't keep every bad person out," Gorman said. "They're next door to us, they're in our schools, and unfortunately they're probably in our hospitals too." Information News 5 obtained from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows drugs went missing 58 times in 2012 at 29 different hospitals across the state.

Hospital Statements:

Centura Health (Penrose St. Francis & St. Mary Corwin Hospitals)

Centura Health has a long history of providing outstanding medical care. Our number one concern is always the care and safety of our patients. We pride ourselves in hiring the very best health care professionals to take care of our patients and their families. We follow strict procedures when hiring all associates, including a series of background and licensing checks, as well as drug testing. In addition to following national guidelines and best practices for safety and quality control including sophisticated software and analytics to monitor specific patterns of medication diversion. Centura Health has zero tolerance for drug diversion. Once we discover that a possible drug diversion has taken place, we take immediate action to launch an internal investigation assembling the appropriate personnel. Based on the results of that internal investigation and if a medication diversion has been substantiated, appropriate remedial action will be taken, including reporting to the appropriate authorities (Board of Medical Examiners, Board of Nursing, Drug Enforcement Agency) and up to and including termination. Our associates are encouraged to have open conversations with their managers and/or human resources personnel if they suspect a possible drug diversion. Additionally, we have an integrity hotline in place for associates to use if they suspect drug diversion. Every report is investigated thoroughly. Pharmacy directors from across Centura facilities have made drug diversion a top priority and are committed to discussing procedures that ensure best practices are in place.

Colorado Insitute of Mental Health at Pueblo:

In 2012, eight instances of diverted drug occurrences at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo were reported to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The Colorado Department of Human Services seeks prosecution of these incidents when a suspect is identified. Per state personnel policy, the department refers employees to substance abuse treatment when appropriate.

William May
Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo
Colorado Department of Human Services

Memorial Hospital:

Memorial Hospital uses a very sophisticated process to ensure that narcotics are not misused or stolen, and that any attempt to do so is detected immediately. Every microgram and milliliter of a narcotic is monitored and reported from the moment it enters our possession, and these drugs can be tracked and traced to individuals at all times. This tracking and its associated processes are paired with a state-of-the-art software program that analyzes unusual activity with respect to how drugs are checked out and administered. Such patterns are then investigated. As with any crime, however, people find creative ways to cheat the system. In the March 2012 incident, a physician devised a way to avoid detection for a short time. That individual no longer practices at Memorial, and no patients were harmed at the time.


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