A nurse at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Bedford diluted morphine doses to veterans under her care in hospice and may have increased one patient’s suffering the day before he died, according to charges filed in federal court Wednesday.
Kathleen Noftle, 55, of Tewksbury is charged with diversion of a controlled substance and tampering with a consumer product after allegedly diluting morphine dosages to three hospice patients in a weekend in January 2017.
Noftle, who was arrested Wednesday morning, appeared before a federal judge in U.S. District Court in Boston in street clothes and handcuffs for her initial appearance.
Employees at the hospice unit at Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford discovered a total of six red-colored caps containing a blue-colored liquid in three hospice patients’ medication “cassettes” after Noftle’s evening shifts on the weekend of Jan. 14-16, 2017, arousing suspicion and an eventual investigation by VA agents, the affidavit states.
Noftle initially denied wrongdoing and told a nurse manager on Jan. 31 she left morphine in her medication cart because of carelessness, not drug diversion.
“I am sorry about this,” Noftle wrote in an email to the manager. “I am a better person than the behavior I displayed leads you to believe.”
On the same day, she admitted to VA agents she had addiction issues and was diverting drugs from the hospital two months prior. She told agents she diluted morphine with water from a sink and gave a portion to patients and ingested the rest.
A review of records showed Noftle scanned one hospice patient’s wristband to give the appearance of a proper dosage administered, the same patient who an employee discovered was in distress 30 minutes after Noftle’s shift.
The affidavit states the employee noted the patient had a furrowed brow, an elevated respiratory rate and “shallow” breathing, and administered an additional 15 mg of morphine before he died the next day.
The agent writes Noftle’s drug diversion may have caused increased breathing difficulties for the patient, and the hospital notified the patient’s family that his “end-of-life comfort may have been negatively impacted.”
A further investigation of records from the Department of Public Health by agents revealed Noftle previously resigned from a job she worked for 29 years at Tewksbury Hospital, after being charged with failure to follow appropriate procedures when wasting narcotics on 60 occasions, “placing patient safety in jeopardy.”
A review of her current nursing license shows it was renewed March 10, but is under a non-disciplinary restriction, meaning practice is not authorized, according to Health and Human Services information.
A prosecutor did not request detention for Noftle, and she was released ahead of a probable cause hearing Oct. 16.
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