Woman poses as nurse, cuts patients' IVs to steal pain meds

SEATTLE -- A woman posing as a hospital employee was caught cutting the tubes connecting patients at Swedish Medical Center with their pain medications in order to steal the drugs inside, according to the Seattle Police Department.

According to the police report for the incident, a patient at Swedish Hospital on First Hill woke up April 13 to find an unknown woman in his room fiddling with his PCA, a machine that allows patients to control their own pain medication.

When the man pointed out that the woman wasn't his normal nurse and asked her what she was doing, she immediately left, saying his regular nurse would be right in.

When the patient's nurse did come in, she found someone had cut the line connecting him to his PCA, and pain medication was dripping onto the floor.

There were also pry marks on the machine where the woman had apparently tried to get at the pain medications inside, according to the report.

While staff was looking into what happened, someone matching the woman's description was reported looking into patients' rooms in another area of the hospital.

When a nurse asked the woman what she was doing, the woman replied she was there to check on PCA machines, according to the report. The nurse later told officers she didn't think anything of it because she had recently taken two PCAs out of service.

According to the report, the woman went into another patient's room, despite the presence of the patient's family, and started checking the PCA.

The PCA's alarm started sounding, and the woman immediately left the room, leaving the family to watch as blood dripped onto the floor from where their mother's PCA line had been cut.

The woman left the hospital, passing more staff on the way out, and the incident was not reported to police until four days later.

Hospital staff told officers the woman was wearing a blue blouse that could easily be mistaken for scrubs and black clogs similar to the ones worn by nurses and other medical staff.

They said she used medical terminology, was very confident and businesslike with her answers to questions, and seemed comfortable going into patients' rooms.

Seattle Police Sgt. Mark Jamieson said hospital security staff was reviewing surveillance tapes to get images of the woman but that only a very small amount of drugs, if any, was actually stolen.

In a Tuesday statement, Ed Boyle of Swedish Health services said an the hospital has launched an internal investigation into the incident.

"Swedish is and has been working closely with Seattle Police over the course of the last week in hopes of identifying the suspect and preventing any further incidents at Swedish or any other area hospitals. Although a delay in reporting the incident to Seattle Police occurred, Swedish security staff continued to investigate the incident," the statement reads.