More details, reactions after Billings Clinic nurse replaced pat - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

More details, reactions after Billings Clinic nurse replaced patient drugs with saline

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Two Billings Clinic patients contacted Tuesday and told they were part of a medical breach in the hospital's Cath Lab had different reactions.

A Billings Clinic nurse was fired after he was caught stealing narcotic medications intended for patients.

The hospital disclosed the drug diversion late Tuesday afternoon, after contacting 341 patients who may have been affected.

Billings Clinic reported the matter to state and federal authorities, who are now investigating for possible criminal prosecution. 

In Tuesday’s statement, Billings Clinic said it learned that the former nurse in its Cardiac Cath Lab had been stealing the narcotic Fentanyl since October 12, 2016.

The hospital did not identify the nurse who has been terminated, other than to say the former employee started working at the Clinic in August, 2016.

In describing the theft, Clinic officials say for the last five months the nurse exchanged Fentanyl with saline, which is a sterile salt water solution. 

Dr. Camilla Saberhagen, the Chief Quality and Patient Safety Officer at Billings Clinic, says the breach was discovered within the last two weeks.

Another nurse noticed a discrepancy in the medication log and notified a supervisor.

Once confronted, Saberhagen says the nurse admitted to what he had been doing.

During Cath lab procedures, patients are sedated using a combination of three medications, of which Fentanyl is one.

Dr.  Saberhagen says the nurse was then compensating with the other two medications to make sure the patient was sedated. 

"Instead of the Fentanyl being used there are cases where we see morphine was used instead of Fentanyl - and more was used… So I think there we see there was areas where there was a compensation for what was being taken,” Saberhagen told Q2.

Because it is conscious sedation, she said before they begin a procedure the cardiologists in the Cath Lab are “going to be sure the patient is adequately sedated.”

Opioid abuse and drug diversion in hospitals is nothing new. 

When asked about patient trust, the Billings Clinic said the best way to combat this nationwide problem is honesty and transparency.

But, that doesn't necessarily make it easier for patients who find out after the fact.

"When you go in for things like this you put all of your trust into the professionals, and when you find out something like this it can be really disturbing, " said Diane Edinger.

Edinger underwent a procedure at Billings Clinic in December.

She said she didn’t notice anything during the procedure and she left the hospital feeling fine, but said that all changed Tuesday morning when she got a call from the hospital notifying her of the breach.

"At this time, unless you test positive for HIV or Hep C they're not going to accept responsibility, but what about the trust issue? When you go into the OR room you're trusting these professionals, these highly trained people to do their job. And once you’re in that room, you're vulnerable.”

The hospital is cooperating fully with authorities, and says the best way to combat this issue is with honesty and transparency.

“You want to have an organization that acknowledges its a problem and that it exists - probably at every health care facility. Just acknowledging that - meaning we’re go look at that and look at our processes and look at whats going on and see what we can fix and try to prevent that from happening down the road,” said Saberhagen. “If you have an organization that can’t acknowledge there’s a problem, chances are they aren't going to be fixing it.”

For patient Connye Hartman, who had her procedure just a couple of weeks ago, she says this development doesn’t change her feeling about her care.

“They were upfront with it which is wonderful, instead of hiding behind a bush or something. They knew what happened, and I trust them after this. I have no hesitation of going back to the Clinic.”

It was unclear Tuesday if any criminal charges would be filed against the former nurse.

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