Oregon hospital nurse's drug diversion led to patient death, lawsuit alleges

The estate of a man who died at Medford, Ore.-based Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in February 2022 has filed an $11.5 million lawsuit against the health system and a former nurse, claiming the nurse's drug diversion led to a fatal infection. 

This marks the first wrongful death suit that has been filed against Asante since Medford police confirmed they were investigating claims of medication theft and concerns of adverse patient care at the hospital earlier this year. The probe involves allegations from sources at the hospital who say several patient deaths may be tied to a nurse who had been taking fentanyl from IV bags and replacing it with unsterile tap water, which they claim led to severe infections and multiple patient deaths. 

Neither officials at Asante nor the police department have confirmed the number of patients who may have been affected. 

"We're holding off on releasing anything because a lot of it is really unclear," Lt. Geoffrey Kirkpatrick of the Medford Police Department told The Oregonian in a Feb. 26 report. 

The lawsuit was filed Feb. 26 on behalf of the estate of 65-year-old Horace Wilson, who was admitted to Rogue Regional Medical Center in January 2022 after falling off a ladder. According to the lawsuit, which names Asante and nurse Dani Marie Schofield, RN, as defendants, testing revealed that Mr. Wilson has suffered broken ribs and internal bleeding from his spleen after the fall. 

On Jan. 28, a day after being admitted, Mr. Wilson's spleen was removed. The lawsuit alleges his condition began to deteriorate a few days later, and he underwent three operations, the last of which required intubation. He began to show signs of sepsis while in the intensive care unit, and testing results later turned up positive bacterial growth of Staphylococcus epidermidis.

The lawsuit cites medical records that state Ms. Schofield was directed to administer fentanyl through the patient's central line while he was in the ICU and alleges she replaced the medication with non-sterile tap water, "thus reintroducing new inoculums of the bacteria" into his bloodstream each time it was administered. Clinicians noted that Mr. Wilson began to develop unexplained high fevers and other signs of severe infection on Feb. 12. 

Mr. Wilson died Feb. 25 after his condition continued to worsen. 

The lawyer representing the estate of Mr. Wilson, Justin Idiart, told The Oregonian he is representing nine clients whose medication was swapped out, including family members of those who died and patients who survived.  

Records from the Oregon State Board of Nursing show that Ms. Schofield agreed to refrain from nursing practice or suspend her license pending completion of an investigation.

On Feb. 28, the police department sent a statement to Becker's saying officials are still "actively investigating" allegations of medication theft and adverse patient care at the hospital. Police said they were aware of civil lawsuits filed against Asante but could not confirm whether the nurse named in the lawsuit is part of their investigation. 

"No one has been charged with a crime as a result of this investigation," Mr. Kirkpatrick said in the statement. "We are meticulously reviewing thousands of documents, including medical records, which require thorough examination and consultation with experts in the medical field." 

Asante did not immediately respond to Becker's request for comment. 

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