Former Hospice Nurse Sentenced to One Year in Prison for Tampering with Narcotic Pain Medication
Stealing Pain Medication Risked Pain Or Overdose For Those In End Of Life Care
A 34-year-old nurse from Anacortes, Washington was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to one year in prison and three years of supervised release for tampering with consumer products and acquiring a controlled substance by fraud or misrepresentation, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. ERIN LINVOG, a former nurse at Fidalgo Care Center & Rosario Assisted Living, pleaded guilty in April 2013. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones said LINVOG “showed reckless disregard of others’ pain and risk of overdose... The only reason you stopped was you were caught... you violated every single notion of what we expect from a nurse.”
According to the facts admitted in the plea agreement, in June 2010, LINVOG began working at the Rosario Assisted Living Center, an elder care facility in Anacortes, Washington, that offers skilled nursing and hospice care to terminally ill patients. LINVOG became credentialed as a registered nurse in November 2011. Sometime in late 2011, LINVOG began stealing narcotics from the facility for her own use. Using her position and authority as a nurse, she requested and received orders for morphine from pharmacies on behalf of Rosario patients, but then diverted entire bottles of narcotics rather than properly logging them into the assigned medicine carts. Moreover, in multiple instances admitted in the plea agreement, LINVOG removed liquid morphine from medicine bottles for her own use, and replaced the missing morphine with tap water, before returning the tampered bottles back to the facility’s medicine carts, where they could have been, and at times were, administered to patients.
The morphine was intended to alleviate the pain of various elderly patients in end-of-life care. LINVOG’s conduct meant that patients near the end of their life were receiving inadequate amounts of medicine to treat their pain and discomfort, and that medical staff did not have a clear picture of the appropriate dosage – since the morphine on hand was diluted. The conduct created the risk that patients could be overdosed if treated with non-diluted medicine, as well as the risk they would suffer needlessly in their final days. LINVOG’s conduct was discovered by the facility in February 2012, which led to her termination shortly thereafter.
At sentencing, Deborah Kelly, the daughter of one of LINVOG’s patients said, “My mom in her last month of life was suffering tremendously… The last year and a half I have been kicking myself that I trusted (LINVOG) to be a better person than she was.”
In asking for a 30 month sentence prosecutors wrote to the court: “Erin Linvog’s offense conduct is egregious, as she knowingly placed highly vulnerable patients at substantial risk of harm and, in some cases, knowingly allowed patients to needlessly suffer…. For the most part, the patients who received diluted pain medication are now deceased and cannot speak for themselves. Thus, families are left largely to speculate as to the consequences of Ms. Linvog’s actions and to question their role in placing their loved ones in such a vulnerable position or in failing to notice foul play. That is a terrible and an unfair position in which to leave these innocent individuals — sons and daughters who entrusted their ailing parent to trained professionals. The final chapter in their memory of the now-deceased loved ones has been forever tainted by the selfish acts of this defendant.”
The case was investigated by the United States Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, and the Anacortes Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Steven Masada and Jerrod Patterson.