Nurse's case goes to District Court

Documents show Craig woman allegedly endangered patients' lives

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The case of a nurse who allegedly stole and consumed painkillers and who, court documents claim, endangered the lives of patients at The Memorial Hospital was bound over to District Court Tuesday.

Laurel Ann Johnson, 39, will be arraigned Feb. 10 before Judge Michael O'Hara at 10:45 a.m., at which time she could enter a plea.

Johnson is charged with two counts of class-four felony possession of a schedule II controlled substance, two counts of class-five felony unlawful use of a schedule II controlled substance, and one count of class-three misdemeanor theft.

Johnson is free after posting a $10,000 bond Dec. 4., shortly after her arrest.

The Craig woman is accused stealing TMH supplies of Demerol and Morphine from a lock-box in the facility's surgical unit.

The alleged thefts were brought to the attention of hospital supervisors in mid-September, and occurred as Johnson was both on and off duty at the hospital. Both police and hospital officials have said no evidence suggests Johnson consumed the painkillers while on duty.

Craig police's investigation didn't establish a specific number of incidents or the amount of drugs involved. She was removed from contact with patients Sept. 24, but wasn't arrested until early December.

In a Sept. 23 interview with investigators, one TMH employee indicated that a narcotics inventory log reflected increased usage at the operating room over a three-month period, according to an affidavit signed by Craig police, which is part of the court record.

The documents also state that Johnson admitted to tampering with vials of morphine and replacing them with saline.

Starting in late August, another employee observed "problems" with patients coming out of surgery, according to court documents.

"Several patients received massive doses of pain narcotics and were still having problems with pain management," court documents show.

TMH administrator Randy Phelps said in an Nov. 5 interview that "less than five" patients

were affected in the alleged incidents, all of whom were

contacted by TMH.

Others interviewed during the Craig Police Department's investigation said that replacing the drug vials with saline endangered lives.

"The manner in which that the saline was replaced in the narcotic containers could have contaminated the saline solution and caused inflections in the patients that received it," according to court documents.

Johnson faces two to six years in state prison if convicted, or, one to 12 years if a judge finds mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.

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