Jail Nurse Guilty of Forging Doctor’s Order; Forged Orders Common Jail Practice
by Mark Wilson
On August 28, 2008, a Multnomah County, Oregon jury convicted a former jail nurse of forging a drug prescription for a prisoner who died hours later.
Jody Gilbert Norman, 43, was arrested on February 19, 2005 and taken to the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) at 3:00 a.m. According to a district attorney’s investigation, Norman, who had a history of drug abuse and heart problems, complained of chest pains to jail staff.
Rather than calling a doctor as jail procedure required, MCDC nurse William Lee James falsified forms to make it appear that a doctor had authorized him to give Norman a prescription anti-anxiety medication called Ativan. Hours later, Norman died in his cell from complications related to his heart condition.
The prosecutor’s office was first alerted to Norman’s death nearly three years later by the Oregon State Board of Nursing, in late 2007. James was then charged with forgery.
During a two-day trial, Deputy District Attorney Glen Banfield argued that if James had called the doctor as he was required to do, Norman likely would have been sent to an emergency room. “Unfortunately, Mr. Norman never had the opportunity,” observed Banfield.
James testified that the jail physician, Dr. Todd Engstram, told him not to disturb him in the middle of the night to administer Ativan. James admitted circling “T.O.” for telephone order on a jail form, and writing that Engstram had ordered Ativan for Norman when he had not. Other MCDC nurses called by James to testify stated that forging the doctor’s orders was a common practice at the jail.
Engstram testified, however, that he never told James not to disturb him in the middle of the night, and other MCDC employees testified that James’ conduct was not common acceptable practice.
Defense attorney Dan DiCicco argued that although James admitted to falsifying the medical form, “he thought he was doing the right thing.” The jury disagreed. While the jurors found that James had forged the prescription, they declined to find that he had violated the “public trust or his professional responsibility” – which would have exposed him to a stiffer sentence.
After the guilty verdict, Judge Adrienne Nelson sentenced James to 18 months probation and 320 hours of community service. In a post-verdict interview, DiCicco said MCDC medical staff feel the need to administer drugs quickly in urgent situations, but “the doctors all leave at 5 p.m.”
James was fired as a jail nurse. One year after Norman died, James’ nursing license was suspended for 21 months. DiCicco said James accepted the suspension and received additional training, including training on how to respond to patients complaining of chest pains. “That’s professional behavior, to acknowledge a mistake, pay your dues and move on,” said DiCicco.
While on suspension James let his license lapse, but that was not the end of his 34-year nursing career. He moved to California and landed a registered nursing position in that state. In light of the Oregon incident, however, an official complaint was filed with the California Board of Registered Nursing by the state Attorney General’s office, which resulted in James’ license being placed on probationary status on March 17, 2008.
Sources: The Oregonian, www.rn.ca.gov
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