COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (CN) - A hospital nurse stole patients' morphine, leaving them to suffer post-surgical pain, three patients claim in a class action in Indiana state court.
Lead plaintiff Deb Newswanger sued Whitley Memorial Hospital dba Parkview Whitley Hospital, in Whitley County Court. The hospital is the only defendant.
Newswanger et al. claim the hospital failed to maintain secure access to its supply of hydromorphone, allowing a registered nurse to filch it and give the patients a simple saline solution instead.
Registered nurse Britte E. Smith was arrested in June and charged with interference with medical services, theft and possession of a narcotic drug, all felonies, according to Indiana news reports, which cited Indiana State Police.
Smith, 40, is not a defendant in the class action, but she is identified in the lawsuit as the nurse who allegedly stole the morphine.
According to the complaint, Smith had access to a Pyxis machine, which dispensed medication at the hospital patients. Smith provided identification each time she used the Pyxis, which the hospital relied on to manage access to and monitor use of hydromorphone.
"Smith's access records to the medications kept by Pyxis revealed highly elevated access for Hydromorphone HCL, beyond that typical of other nurses using Pyxis," the complaint states.
"Smith was found to have manipulated the medications withdrawn, replacing the liquid Hydromorphone HCL with saline. The saline was then given to patients unknowingly, as a supposed aid to the reduction of their pain."
All three named plaintiffs claim they were given saline solution rather than morphine for pain.
The hospital said in a statement that it cooperated with police.
The plaintiffs seek class certification and damages for negligence and constructive fraud. They are represented by Daniel Vanderpool, of Warsaw, Ind.