Nurses stealing prescription drugs is among the most serious issues facing today’s Oklahoma Nursing Board, which disciplines hundreds of licensees each year for violating the nursing code.
According to the most recent annual report released by the board, 13 percent of all cases opened by its investigators in 2013 were drug-related. Only cases involving “nursing practice,” a far broader category, were more numerous.
Last year, a record 1,552 cases were reported to the board.
Lauri Jones, a registered nurse and president of the Oklahoma Nursing Board, said diversion of addictive drugs among nurses is one of the most common issues the board deals with.
Jones, of Chickasha, said drugs, practice-related issues and the neglect and abuse of patients are the “top three” problems facing Oklahoma nurses.
But it’s drugs — the abuse and theft of them — that looms the largest.
“When you have an addict, you have a person who is going to manipulate systems and people,” Jones said. “If you have an addict as a practicing nurse, they’re going to manipulate whoever they can.”
Nurses work throughout Oklahoma, in a variety of settings. Some of them work in sprawling campuses in Oklahoma City or Tulsa. Others work in small clinics in small towns, or for doctors in private practices in the suburbs. Many go to work every day in a patient’s home.
Regardless of where they are, nurses have access to medications, many of them narcotics.
An open records request made by The Oklahoman to the Oklahoma Nursing board, which covered a 10-year period ending on March 31, reveals that some nurses paid a hefty price for stealing drugs or using their position as a nurse to get them.
A little more than a year ago, Kawinta Biagas-Robinson was cited on a violation of the Oklahoma Nursing Practice Act by diverting morphine and other drugs meant for “at least two patients” while she worked as a staff nurse at Community Hospital in Oklahoma City.
Just a few weeks before she was fired by Community Hospital, Biagas-Robinson was fired from Midwest Regional Medical Center in Midwest City accused of stealing highly addictive painkillers meant for “at least seven patients.”
Biagas-Robinson also was fired from Norman Regional Hospital in August 2008 after she refused to provide a sample for a drug test. Board records show that the nurse was accused of stealing “a large amount of morphine ... for administration to several patients without documentation of pain.”
Records show that Biagas-Robinson drew a $10,000 fine from the nursing board. Her license is revoked, meaning she no longer is licensed to practice nursing in Oklahoma.
Other nurses use outright fraud to get drugs.
In September 2007, a woman working as a field nurse for Gentiva Health Services in Stroud used her position as a nurse to secure more than 3,000 tablets of Lortab, a highly addictive painkiller, records show.
A board order filed against Jeanne Loree McGinnis, who also acquired Xanax in her scheme, shows that the nurse simply called a pharmacy and told them she was calling from the office of a local doctor and that the medication was for a patient.
McGinnis’ ruse lasted for four months before she was caught and charged with a list of felonies in March 2008. The woman’s nursing license was surrendered after she failed to complete a substance abuse treatment program. She would also plead guilty to drug charges, drawing a five-year probation term.
McGinnis was fined $9,000 by the Oklahoma Nursing Board, one of the largest fines handed down by the board in the past 10 years. She is no longer a licensed nurse in Oklahoma, board records show.
Some nurses were fined far more because of their drug abuse.
The largest fine handed down in the past decade was issued to Martin Lee Keasler, who was licensed as a registered nurse and licensed practical nurse before he stood in front of the nursing board on July 8, 2008.
Keasler, who worked for Solara Hospital in Shawnee in 2007 and parts of 2008, was disciplined by the nursing board after he was caught diverting more than 500 vials of medical-grade cocaine, which is still used today by some doctors and dentists because of its anesthetic properties.
Keasler was fined a record $250,000 by the Oklahoma Nursing Board. A check of the board’s licensee verification database shows that Keasler has yet to pay the fine. His nursing license is still listed as revoked.
The second-largest fine — and the only one in the six-figure neighborhood as Keasler’s — was issued to Kirsten Turci Baquera in October 2004.
Baquera worked at the Alterra Sterling House nursing home in Oklahoma City from June 2004 to August 2004, board records show. While there, the nurse “diverted Lortab and Morphine tablets and Carisoprodol by substituting these controlled dangerous substances with Tylenol tablets,” according to a board order filed against Baquera.
“(Baquera) diverted Fentanyl patches for her personal use,” the order states. “There were a total of 304 pills and/or patches diverted.”
Baquera was fined $157,000 by the nursing board for her conduct and her license is still listed as revoked.
Position of trust
Some nurses use their position of trust to feed their addictions - even when they aren’t on the clock.
One nurse - who died at the age of 30 in April 2013 - came to her job at an Oklahoma City hospital, just days before Christmas 2007, dressed in “nurse attire” for the purpose of stealing drugs.
An order filed against the nurse shows that she stole two syringes loaded with hydromorphone from the “Oncology Unit” and another 10 tablets of Norco, a highly addictive painkiller, from the “Med-Surg Unit.”
The nurse’s license was revoked and she was fined $10,000 by the board.
Tiffany Herrera, a registered nurse who worked at Renaissance Women’s Center in Midwest City during the summer of 2006, also was disciplined by the nursing board after she “withdrew and charged patients for (controlled dangerous substances) after clocking out from her assigned shift and/or on days she was not assigned to work,” a consent order filed against the nurse states.
Herrera was fined $10,500 by the nursing board on Jan. 15, 2007, and also was charged in Cleveland County District Court with three counts of obtaining controlled dangerous substances by fraud. She would later plead guilty to all three counts, receiving three-year probation term.
Herrera is no longer a practicing nurse, records show.
With the nursing ranks swollen to nearly 75,000 licensees, record fines are being assessed and collected by the Oklahoma Nursing Board.
Last year, the board handed out $657,250 in fines to Oklahoma nurses who had violated the laws of their profession. The board also conducted more than 700 disciplinary hearings for the third year in a row and collected $373,100 in fines, the most ever.
In 2013, the board received 10.5 percent of its revenue through the payment of fines, the largest such percentage in the past 10 years, according to records provided through an open records request.
By the numbers
Amount in fines handed out in 2012 by the Oklahoma Nursing Board to nurses who had violated the laws of their profession.
Number of disciplinary hearings held by the nursing board for the third year in a row.
Amount collected in fines from the disciplinary hearings.
Percentage of revenue received by the Oklahoma Nursing Board through the payment of fines. It was the largest such percentage in the past 10 years, records show.