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Former nurse charged with pilfering opioids from Alice Peck Day hospital

  • Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, N.H., is the third Upper Valley hospital to become affiliated with Dartmouth-Hitchcock. The others are New London Hospital and Mt. Ascutney Hospital in Windsor, Vt. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Fiorella Buck, who works in Dining Services, speaks with CEO Sue Mooney after Mooney’s presentation to employees about the hospital’s strategic plan and its affiliation with Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Buck earlier said she supported the plan to give patients same-day primary care access.Valley News — Geoff Hansen Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/9/2022 10:35:03 PM
Modified: 8/9/2022 10:31:57 PM

LEBANON — A former Alice Peck Day nurse has been charged with diversion of drugs for her personal use, the latest incident of a regional health care worker swept up in the opioid epidemic.

Amy Vickers, of Bradford, Vt., is charged with stealing hydromorphone, an opioid drug, from APD’s dispensing system in June, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for New Hampshire.

When asked by hospital administrators if she was diverting prescription medication, Vickers admitted she had been doing so for several months and “using all of the missing medications while on duty as a nurse,” the federal complaint alleges.

APD spokesman Peter Glenshaw said via email Tuesday that the hospital is cooperating with “all relevant law enforcement and regulatory entities” in the investigation of the alleged drug diversion and that “no patient harm resulted from this incident.”

Vickers, 44, who said she worked for 18 months as a nurse in APD’s surgical unit, declined to comment further when reached by the Valley News on Tuesday.

The charge against Vickers follows a recent similar case in which a registered nurse who worked at senior care facility Elmwood Genesis Center in Claremont had her nursing license indefinitely revoked in March by the state’s licensing board for taking a single pill of oxycodone from the medical cart and being intoxicated at work in 2019.

The former RN, Sarah Heed, 44, in a separate incident was arrested and charged in July with possession of a controlled substance after city police searched her residence and found crack cocaine, cash, a firearm and a “significant quantity” of heroin, Claremont police announced in July.

A request for comment made by text Tuesday to a phone number listed under Heed’s name was not returned.

Both the APD and Elmwood diversions came to light around the same time that Cheshire Medical Center in Keene reported that nearly 8 gallons of fentanyl solution had gone missing from the hospital pharmacy, hinting at the extent to which hospitals are facing “diversion” of drugs by health care employees dealing with addiction.

Cheshire Medical Center earlier this year announced that an investigation found that over a period of several months a large quantity of fentanyl had disappeared from the hospital’s pharmacy, which it attributed, in part, to a nurse who admitted to taking the drug, as well as sloppy record keeping of waste disposal procedures.

Late last month Cheshire Medical Center entered into a settlement agreement with the state’s pharmacy board that calls for the hospital to pay $235,000 in fines and allows the inpatient pharmacy to remain licensed with restrictions.

Often assumed to be consigned to the economically oppressed, opioid addiction has become so prevalent that it reaches into every corner of society, including health care professionals themselves, especially as 2½ years of the COVID-19 pandemic has strained the medical system and pushed workers to the limit.

“There has been increasing levels of stress for front-line health care workers from COVID-19, working double shifts, short supplies, seeing people die — there are dozens of reasons people in the field end up turning to drugs and alcohol,” said James Benton, director of psychology training at the Brattleboro Retreat in Brattleboro, Vt.

The retreat noticed such an increase in cases of people with addiction issues in the health care field that earlier this year it launched a new program targeted directly at serving health care professionals. Modeled after a similar program designed for people in uniform services, such as police and emergency responders, Benton said the program has already had 15 people pass through it in the first months of operation.

“We find it really helpful when people are with their cohort,” said Benton, explaining the value of addiction treatment among people with similar experiences. “They share the same stressors and common themes.”

APD’s Glenshaw said the hospital’s internal controls worked to detect Vickers’ alleged pilfering.

“Diversion of controlled substances is an extremely serious issue that continues to affect hospitals across the country,” he said, noting the alleged theft by the “former employee” — he did not identify her by name — “was discovered through routine internal reporting processes, which are specifically designed to identify this kind of incident.”

”We regularly review these protocols in the interest of patient and employee safety,” Glenshaw said.

After initially asking APD administrators when confronted about her alleged theft of hospital drugs at work if there was “any other way to handle the situation,” Vickers agreed to submit to a drug screening, which resulted in her testing positive for opioids in her system, according to the government’s complaint.

“Vickers stated that she had a problem and agreed to be immediately taken to a treatment facility,” the complaint said.

Heed was not initially so cooperative, however.

When a co-worker noticed during their shift that “narcotic count” of pills in the medical cart was off and asked Heed about it, Heed — who appeared disheveled, had the smell of alcohol on her breath, spoke erratically and was “sweating a lot” — accused the co-worker herself of drug diversion, according to the nursing board report.

Moreover, when confronted by Elmwood management with allegations of being intoxicated at work and asked to undergo a urine test, Heed refused, the nursing board said.

Another Elmwood employee reported that she had so much concern about Heed’s “practice of giving the maximum dose for a narcotic from the doctor’s order, even if that patient did not need that much,” that the employee had scheduled herself to work alongside Heed to monitor her administering drugs to residents, the nursing board report said.

Heed, who was arrested and charged along with Ethan Marsh, 29, on July 15, is currently out on bail and scheduled for arraignment in Sullivan Superior Court in Newport on Aug. 17.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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