Hospice nurse resigns after alleged drug theft

By LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A nurse employed at the Hospice of Northwest Ohio facility in South Toledo resigned last week after she was suspected of stealing liquid pain medication prescribed to patients, a spokesman confirmed yesterday.

Hospice officials and a police report filed Tuesday identified Mary E. Mitchell, 51, of Maumee as the suspect. She has not been criminally charged.

Judy Lang, hospice's director of communications, said officials became suspicious the suspect was allegedly stealing drugs so they conducted an internal investigation.

"As soon as we became aware, we reacted and did everything we were supposed to do," she said.

According to the police report, Hospice officials monitored Mitchell and the amount of drugs she administered to her patients from April 1 to May 22.

Ms. Lang said she believes none of the patients in the 24-unit facility at 800 South Detroit Ave. was harmed as a result of the nurse's actions. Relatives of patients were not made aware of the incident.

The pain medication that was stolen is an injectable liquid packaged in a premeasured vial. Patients are given their prescribed dosage and the remaining medication is to be disposed of, Ms. Lang said.

She alleged that Mitchell, who worked as a registered nurse at the hospice for about two years, administered the prescribed dosage to patients and then took the remaining medication.

When confronted, Ms. Lang said Mitchell, who otherwise had a clean disciplinary history, admitted to stealing the drugs. The suspect provided no additional details to hospice officials.

Mitchell has an unpublished phone number and could not be reached for comment last night.

Ms. Lang said criminal background checks, including fingerprinting, are conducted on all potential employees before they are hired.

But according to Lucas County Common Pleas Court records, Mitchell was convicted in 2001 of a felony charge of theft of drugs.

She was sentenced to three years of probation, ordered to submit random urine samples, and continue treatment with a state nursing program. Mitchell also was ordered to attend 12-step meetings and attend a Toledo Hospital after-care program.

Ms. Lang said last night she was unaware until recently of Mitchell's felony conviction. She said the hospice would not normally have hired an individual with a past felony conviction.

"I don't know what happened," she said.

Ms. Lang said it appears through the facilities' investigation that the suspect stole medication during each of her shifts for about a month. She declined to release the amount of medication that was taken.

Ms. Lang would not identify the specific brand name of the pain medication, citing fear that someone may break into the facility and steal it. She said it is a powerful medication given to patients with "extreme pain."

During each shift, officials conduct an inventory of drugs comparing what is prescribed to patients to what is actually used. She said there is also an inventory kept of the drugs that are disposed.

"I think she was a suspect for a while and they started monitoring more carefully," Ms. Lang said.

Ms. Lang stressed that in the organization's 27 years, this is the first incident of its kind there.

Contact Laren Weber at:
lweber@theblade.com
or 419-724-6050.

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