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Former VA nurse charged with giving patient too much pain medication out of sympathy

Gino J. Merli Veterans' Center in Scranton, Pa. (Google Maps/Released)

A former nurse at the Gino J. Merli Veterans Center gave a patient more pain medication than was prescribed even though that patient had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, according to the state attorney general’s office.

John A. Ortiz, 41, 224 W. Drinker St., acknowledged to investigators that he gave the man more medication than was prescribed, according to a criminal complaint filed by Agent Victoria Trembone. Ortiz felt sympathy for the patient, he explained to investigators. The patient, who is identified by investigators only by his initials, was in pain.

The center started to suspect Ortiz after a registered nurse noticed the consistency of the patient’s liquid oxycodone went from syrupy to watered down. They contacted the attorney general’s office in August 2018.

Ortiz did not have authorization from Dr. Daniel Kazmierski or Ashley Franklin, a certified registered nurse assistant, to increase the man’s dose.

Kazmierski told Trembone that if a nurse approached him with concerns about the patient’s pain, he would have examined him to verify that an increase in dosage was appropriate. Officials at the center said they take extra precautions with that patient because they know he has a background of substance abuse.

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Trembone went over surveillance clips from July 2018, and watched as Ortiz poured liquid oxycodone until a 30 mL measuring cup was full and then did not log the administration of the patient’s medication, according to the complaint.

Ortiz has since resigned from the veterans center, according to the complaint. His nursing license was still active as of Thursday, state records show.

Ortiz is charged with dispensing medication outside accepted practices, a felony, and misdemeanor counts of refusal or failure to keep required records and theft by unlawful taking.

Ortiz is free on $50,000 unsecured bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday.

Ortiz declined to comment. Attempts to reach a representative with the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs were unsuccessful Thursday.

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© 2019 The Times-Tribune