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Douglas Nurse Suspended After Allegedly Stealing Pain Drug From Memorial Hospital of Converse County

Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

A registered nurse was placed on administrative leave Friday from Memorial Hospital of Converse County for allegedly stealing a narcotic painkiller from the hospital for his personal use.

Ryan Harris also had his license summarily suspended by the Wyoming State Board of Nursing for two reasons: diversion of a controlled substance and inability to practice safely by reason of alcohol or other substance abuse.

Hospital CEO Ryan Smith says over 400 patients may have received a weakened form of hydromorphone as a result of Harris’ actions.

Karl Hertz, media contact at the hospital, said Wednesday the Douglas County attorney is investigating along with the state nursing board and the Wyoming State Board of Pharmacy. Those investigations are currently underway, and Hertz said he is not aware of charges having been filed against Harris at this point.

The suspension went into effect Thursday, June 8. As such, Harris is not authorized to practice nursing in any capacity within the state of Wyoming.

In a statement, Smith said hospital pharmacy staff on June 2 discovered irregularities in the access of Dilaudid — a brand of hydromorphone — during a routine review of the hospital’s automated medication dispensing system.

As a result of Harris’ alleged actions, patients who were given Dilaudid at the hospital from Sept. 13 through June 2 may not have received the medication as prescribed. Harris compromised certain vials of the drug, the hospital says.

Hertz told K2 Radio that Harris, who has been a registered nurse at the hospital for some seven years, would draw hydromorphone from vials, refilling them with saline. This was done in the pharmacy, and the vials were then distributed to different departments throughout the organization.

“That has complicated the search for which patients were impacted,” Hertz said, adding that the number of patients affected and the amount of hydromorphone taken by Harris remain unclear.

A pharmacy technician was pulling reports on June 2, Hertz said, and noticed an irregularity. The technician informed their supervisor, who combed through additional reports and concluded that Harris had been overriding the drug dispensing system “quite a bit,” Hertz said.

Hospital officials immediately reported the drug diversion to the Wyoming State Board of Nursing, the Wyoming State Board of Pharmacy and the Douglas Police Department.

Harris was personally using the drug, Hertz said. Harris reportedly received hydromorphone while he was a patient at the hospital, which led to what hospital officials say is now an addiction.

Harris, a night nurse supervisor, wasn’t at work when staff discovered the alleged drug diversion. Hospital officials called him in and confronted him.

In a press conference Wednesday, Hertz said Harris also tampered with containers of the painkillers DemerolĀ and fentanyl, but Harris’ use of those drugs was minimal compared with his use of hydromorphone.

Hertz says Harris admitted to stealing the hydromorphone and has been cooperative ever since. He was immediately suspended.

Hertz added that while the hospital is minimally staffed and Harris’ suspension will be impactful, staff have pulled together to cover shifts and ensure patients receive the care they need.

It’s a narrow path of compliance, Hertz said, if Harris wants to get back into the profession and the hospital, though Hertz says that isn’t an impossibility.

Any patients who received Dilaudid during that period can call 307-358-7345 to reach a dedicated phone line where hospital staff will answer any questions.

“On behalf of our entire organization, I want to apologize to our employees, community, and, most importantly, to any patient who may have been affected by this nurse’s drug diversion,” Smith said in the statement. “All of our employees and providers have been working very hard to improve our organizational culture and values, and we were all devastated to learn this drug diversion took place here.”

Wyoming State Board of Nursing Executive Director Cynthia LaBonde said Wednesday she is not aware of any criminal prosecution at this point. LaBonde said the matter is still under investigation.

The summary suspension remains in effect following the board’sĀ teleconference meeting on Thursday. A written order will be issued following the board’s upcoming meeting in Cheyenne, set for June 10-12.

LaBonde said the board will complete its investigation of the matter, a recommendation will be made, and the board will decide Harris’ professional future in the state.

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