BOSTON (WFXT/CNN) - A former Massachusetts hospice nurse at a Veterans Affairs facility faces charges after she allegedly split the morphine doses that were supposed to be for the veterans in her care and ingested portions of them herself.
Kathleen Noftle, 55, is accused of diluting with water morphine that was meant go to her patients in the hospice unit at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus in Bedford, Mass., in 2017. She allegedly gave the patients part of the diluted doses and ingested the rest herself.
She was charged Wednesday with one count of obtaining a controlled substance illegally and one count of tampering with a consumer product.
If convicted of both charges, Noftle faces up to 14 years in prison and a fine of $500,000.
Investigation revealed that, due to the diluted morphine administered by Noftle, one veteran experienced difficult breathing and increased suffering in his final days, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The Bedford hospital says Noftle was fired, and the allegations were reported to the VA’s independent inspector general.
Investigators found that before working in Bedford, Noftle had resigned from her position as a nurse at the state-run Tewksbury Hospital after she improperly disposed of narcotics on more than 60 occasions, putting patient safety in jeopardy.
She resigned before facing disciplinary action, according to court documents.
The Department of Public Health is looking into Noftle’s employment record in light of her arrest.
"If you don’t address it at one place, it’s not like it’s going to go away. The problem doesn’t go away: the nurse does and takes the problem to the new location,” said Carol Mallia, a registered nurse with the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
Mallia is a substance abuse specialist and says some nurses turn to drugs because they face continuous trauma and sadness at work with little time to process it.
"Pull it together. The next admission’s coming, and they have to swallow it down and keep going. I think, over years, nurses find that quite difficult,” she said.