January 19, 2008
Hospital Use of Diluted Meds Unsure
By Bob Stiles
A registered nurse at Mercy Jeannette Hospital was uncertain how many vials of painkilling medicine that he had diluted with saline solution may have been used to treat patients, if any, according to investigators.
Frank C. Glomb, 33, of 834 Kiski Park Drive, Washington Township, was charged this week with three felony drug offenses related to illegal acquisition of narcotics and recklessly endangering another person.
The state Attorney General's office accused Glomb of diverting morphine, Demerol and other powerful narcotics from the Jeannette hospital's pharmacy for his own use from August through September, according to charges filed before Jeannette District Judge Joseph DeMarchis.
Investigators said they determined that Glomb would cut open boxes of liquid pain medication, remove some of the drugs, then replace the missing liquid with saline solution. He then would glue the boxes back together and return the altered medicine to the cabinets, authorities said.
Investigators questioned Glomb Nov. 9, at which time he admitted diverting the drugs, according to a probable cause affidavit.
"Glomb could not put a definitive number on the amount of narcotics he had tampered with and what was ultimately returned to stock or administered to patients through the hospital," the affidavit said of the interview.
The reckless endangerment charge stemmed from the replacement of pain medicine "with saline and/or unknown substances" and their placement "back into use for patient care at Mercy Jeannette Hospital," the complaint said.
Attorney general spokesman Nils Frederiksen said Thursday that investigators have no evidence to indicate that diluted pain medicine reached patients, or additional charges would be filed.
He said the investigation showed that Glomb, who worked in the medical surgical ward, would remove about half of the painkiller from a vial, then replace the missing amount with the saline solution.
"It was about a 50-50 mix ... a diluted mix," Frederiksen said.
He surmised a diluted painkiller would not supply the relief expected by the patient or the physician.
Calls made to Julie Hester, the hospital's administrator, were not returned yesterday.
Hospital spokeswoman Patti Buhl said yesterday that the facility cooperated with investigators and notified them when the diluted medicine was discovered.
"To the best of our knowledge, none our patients were put at risk, and we've done a thorough investigation," she said.
Buhl said patient charts were examined and no patients complained about uncontrolled pain.
Despite the allegations, Buhl claimed the hospital had stringent regulations in place about how medicines are obtained and administered.
According to court papers, nurses had access to the medicine cabinets.
Stacy Kriedeman, state health department spokeswoman, said her agency typically reviews procedures used by a hospital when claims of medicine tampering are reported.
Hospital personnel used records to link Glomb to at least four boxes of painkillers that were in the pharmacy Sept. 30, investigators said. At that point, they had become suspicious after he suffered a seizure while working the 3-11 p.m. shift, court papers said.
"An examination of the contents (by a pharmacy technician) revealed that several of the vials of injectables appeared to have been opened and glued back together," the affidavit said. "The fourth box had already been dispensed to the ICU (intensive care unit), which was immediately recovered."
The technician "found that one of the carpujects (vials) from that box had already been administered to a patient, but the remaining nine carpujects were recovered," the affidavit said.
A further check of the entire hospital turned up 409 carpujects that were either obviously tampered with or were in boxes that had been opened and resealed, investigators said. All of the recovered carpujects were found in the unit where Glomb worked, investigators said.
The affidavit said that when Glomb suffered the seizure, empty syringes, partial bottles of unknown liquids and a razor blade fell out of his sock and smock.
"When Glomb was taken to the emergency room, a nurse ... found that Glomb had an IV port in his arm," the affidavit said.
At that point, with suspicions raised, authorities said Glomb indicated to hospital employees that he had been diverting narcotics from the hospital for several months. He allegedly signed a statement saying such. Hospital officials then contacted authorities.
Buhl declined to discuss Glomb's employment history or status.
In November, Glomb told investigators he first acquired the narcotics at the hospital by injecting himself with pain medicine left in syringes already used for patients. At this point, Glomb said, he was using painkillers two or three times per week, according to court papers.
But as his demand for drugs increased to two or three times per day, Glomb said he needed to find a new way to get drugs, investigators said.
Glomb allegedly tampered with the solutions in a bathroom. He also would take home some of the drugs, disposing of the used paraphernalia when he returned to work, court papers alleged.
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