Billings Clinic fires nurse, notifies 341 patients after drug diversion

A former nurse in the catheterization lab at Billings (Mont.) Clinic Hospital was caught exchanging patients' fentanyl — a powerful opioid pain medication 50 times more potent than morphine — with saline solution, according to a report from the Billings Gazette.

The hospital has fired the nurse, mailed a letter to 341 patients who may have been affected by the drug diversion and dedicated a phone line to field questions from patients on the matter.

The hospital also reportedly tested the nurse's blood for HIV and hepatitis C. The nurse's tests results came back negative for both infections, and the hospital assured patients it found no evidence of possible infection exposure related to the incident.

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"Billings Clinic immediately reported this matter to the appropriate state and federal authorities and is cooperating fully with their investigation," Billings Clinic said in a press release emailed to Becker's Hospital Review. "In addition, the clinic terminated the nurse's employment and is conducting an internal investigation. The former employee started at Billings Clinic in August of 2016."

The hospital will also adjust charges on patient bills for sedating medications used during procedures in the catheterization lab.

"We are taking this matter very seriously and our focus is to support our patients," Camilla Saberhagen, MD, the hospital's chief quality and patient safety officer, said in the release. "We are working to identify ways to strengthen our safeguards and reduce the risk of theft and potential threats to patient safety."

In 2016, multiple hospitals across the U.S. were forced to notify patients of potential infections from contaminated needles after a surgical technician diverted opioid medications while employed at various hospitals, raising the possibility of the circulation of contaminated needles.

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