BRATTLEBORO — With an investigation ongoing into how more than 500 bags of liquid fentanyl went missing at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, N.H., hospital administrators in Southern Vermont are assuring people there are measures in place to prevent the same thing from happening here.
“We have a drug diversion system in place that we continually evaluate for gaps and continually improve upon,” said Dr. Trey Dobson, chief medical officer for Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington. “All medicines given in this organization are barcoded, so they are scanned.”
Barcoding, a form of technology SVMC invested in many years ago, is helpful in keeping track of controlled substances, said Dobson.
In addition, SVMC has a committee that includes the pharmacy, doctors and nurses who meet regularly to review prescribing of medications and review every case in which it appears drugs are missing. The hospital also provides education on prescribing regulated drugs, said Dobson. He said he is aware of the Cheshire Medical situation, adding, “It is difficult for me to imagine that would occur at any level here at this hospital.”
On Thursday, the New Hampshire Office of Professional Licensure and Certification held a hearing to discuss the missing fentanyl at Cheshire Medical Center.
The license of Amy Matthews, chief nursing officer, was put on emergency suspension after the discovery of the missing painkillers, reported WMUR.
Thursday’s hearing was held to decide whether her license should remain suspended while the investigation continues.
According to the emergency suspension order, from September to January, 583 bags of fentanyl solution were lost from the hospital or unaccounted for.
Matthews has not been accused of having any involvement in the missing fentanyl, but attorneys for the Office of Professional Licensure and Certification said she bears responsibility as supervisor, reported WMUR. No decision was made by the state licensing board Thursday.
The documents noted that more than 280 bags were stolen by a nurse who admitted to taking them. She no longer practices nursing. The remaining bags of solution are unaccounted for.
In a statement, Cheshire Medical Center said it “continues to make significant progress in the essential work of strengthening our controlled substance policies and practices.”
At Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend, Stephen Kapral, pharmacy director, said while he can’t comment on the particulars of the investigation at Cheshire, Grace Cottage has a rigorous record-keeping system in place to prevent the diversion of painkillers, such as fentanyl.
“We monitor and control access to our automated medication dispensing machines,” he said. “We look at who’s accessing them, we look at who they’re getting administered to, we make sure that documentation of administration and waste of controlled substances is done for our policies, and look at any outliers. If there are any outliers, we do investigations to make sure that everything is documented appropriately.”
In a hospital setting, fentanyl is a injectable pain medication that can be administered in doses appropriate for each patient, said Kapral.
“I feel confident we have a good system that is following industry standards,” he said.
At Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, David Chase, pharmacy director, said the health and safety of its employees, patients, visitors and community members are the hospital’s top priority.
“We are committed to providing the resources and education necessary to maintain a healthy environment for all who come here,” he said. “We also realize that drug diversion is a complex issue, and that addiction is a powerful illness that affects people in different ways. This is a national problem, and like our counterparts at other area hospitals, we are always working to improve and refine the systems and safeguards designed to curb this problem.”