A former nurse in the hospice unit at the Bedford VA hospital is facing federal charges alleging she took morphine for personal use that had been intended for veterans under her care, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
In a statement, US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling’s office identified the suspect as Kathleen Noftle, 55, of Tewksbury. She was arrested Tuesday night and made her initial appearance in US District Court in Boston Wednesday afternoon in handcuffs.
Prosecutors did not ask for any cash bail and she was released on personal recognizance after not guilty pleas were entered on her behalf. Noftle did not speak during the brief proceeding.
She is charged in a criminal complaint with obtaining a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, deception, and subterfuge and tampering with a consumer product, Lelling’s office said.
Here’s how Noftle allegedly swiped the morphine from severely ill vets in pain, according to the statement from prosecutors:
“According to charging documents, on Jan. 13, 14, and 15, 2017, Noftle used her position as a nurse to obtain doses of morphine that were meant to be given to the veterans under her care in the hospice unit,” the statement said, adding that Noftle “admitted to federal agents that she mixed water from a sink with a portion of the liquid morphine doses, and then administered the diluted medication to patients orally.”
Then, Lelling’s office said, Noftle allegedly “ingested a diluted amount of the remaining drug. The investigation revealed that, due to diluted morphine administered by Noftle, one veteran experienced increased difficulty breathing (dyspnea) and increased suffering in his final days. The investigation also found that before working at the VA Medical Center in Bedford, Noftle had resigned from her position as a nurse at a different hospital following her failure to follow appropriate procedures when wasting narcotics on 60 occasions.”
According to the state Board of Registration in Nursing’s online database, Noftle has an active license and she’s currently subjected to a “Non-Disciplinary Restriction.’’
Her license was last renewed in March and is set to expire in July 2020, the database said Wednesday morning. “Currently there is no disciplinary information regarding this license,” the database said.
“NOFTLE was hired by the VAMC as a full-time registered nurse on March 22, 2015,” said an affidavit filed in her criminal case. “Prior to being hired by the VAMC, NOFTLE previously worked as a registered nurse for Tewksbury Hospital for approximately twenty-nine years.”
Noftle in January 2017 confessed her alleged wrongdoing to the nurse manager at the VA, according to court documents.
“NOFTLE later sent the Nurse Manager an email reiterating the admissions she made during their telephone conversation,” the affidavit said. “NOFTLE wrote, in part, ‘I am responsible for putting diluted medication in the caps into the medcart. The 3rd day I placed one in another cart to try to get the focus off myself. I am sorry about this. I am a better person than the behavior I displayed leads you to believe.’ ”
She also allegedly came clean to investigators that same day.
During an interview with authorities, “NOFTLE said she was responsible for the morphine that was discovered in the medication carts on all three days,” the filing said. “NOFTLE acknowledged that she ‘planted’ liquid morphine in her co-worker’s medication cart with the purpose of diverting attention from herself. After initially denying that she had diverted the drugs for personal use, NOFTLE admitted she had addiction issues and began to divert drugs from the VAMC approximately two months prior. NOFTLE said she either ingested drugs that patients had refused or diluted drugs she administered to patients. NOFTLE explained she mixed water from the sink with a portion of the patient’s liquid morphine then administered the diluted medication to the patient orally. NOFTLE said she then ingested a diluted amount of the remaining drug.”
The affidavit also described the circumstances of Noftle’s earlier departure from Tewksbury Hospital.
“As part of the investigation, I also questioned NOFTLE about the circumstances of her departure from Tewksbury Hospital, before she was hired by the VAMC,” the filing said. “During an initial interview of NOFTLE on January 23, 2017, she stated that she left because of the ending of a romantic relationship. Records subsequently obtained from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health revealed that NOFTLE had agreed to resign from Tewksbury Hospital in lieu of a disciplinary proceeding that could have resulted in her termination.”
The records, the filing said, showed “that NOFTLE had been charged with failure to follow appropriate procedures when wasting narcotics on 60 occasions, placing patient safety in jeopardy. She was placed on a ‘last-chance’ agreement, but narcotics were then discovered in her medication cart where they did not belong.”
Noftle wrote on her LinkedIn profile that she cared “for medically & mentally ill” at Tewksbury Hospital. Her profile contains no mention of her time at the VA.