Iowa nurses sanctioned for stolen drugs, social-media posts, falsified records

By: - September 27, 2022 5:11 pm

The state of Iowa has suspended the license of a nurse who allegedly stole medication from elderly nursing home residents. (Photo illustration by Iowa Capital Dispatch; background photo by JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images)

The state of Iowa has suspended the license of a nurse who allegedly stole medication from elderly nursing home residents.

State records indicate that in August 2019, a Fort Dodge man was mowing his yard when he found a purse that had been tossed into the bushes alongside his property. When he and his wife looked inside the purse, they found several small, white envelopes containing pills, along with an employee identification badge for Pamela Hook, a nurse at the QHC Villa nursing home in Fort Dodge.

The couple returned the purse to the home, where QHC Villa Administrator Penny Moellers found that the envelopes were of the same type used by the facility and contained Trazodone, Atarax, Lorazepam and Seroquel.

Hook reportedly acknowledged the purse was hers and said she had left it in her locked car before embarking on a trip. When asked about the pills in the purse, Hook allegedly said little except that the Trazedone pills were hers, according to state records.

When asked why one of the envelopes had the name of a 96-year-old QHC resident on it, Hook allegedly didn’t respond. When Moellers told Hook she was suspended pending an investigation of the matter, Hook allegedly became angry and started yelling and cursing at Moellers while questioning Moellers’ authority to search her purse, according to state records.

Moellers subsequently found that Hook appeared to have dispensed more “as needed” medications to residents than other nurses at the home. She fired Hook, who then filed for unemployment benefits, claiming the pills belonged to her and her daughter. She was denied benefits after she allegedly admitted to an investigator with the state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit she took the pills from the facility and that they were marked with the name of the resident to whom the medication had been prescribed.

When interviewed later by another state investigator, Hook allegedly denied any wrongdoing and said she had confessed only because she was “sick and tired of the whole bull—-” and wanted to get the other investigator “off my back.”

The Department of Inspections and Appeals issued a report indicating an allegation of dependent-adult abuse against Hook was founded. In 2020, Hook appealed that ruling.

After a hearing on the matter, Administrative Law Judge Barbara Tapscott ruled against Hook, noting several contradictory statements Hook made to investigators. “She offers no explanation as to how that person could have obtained her purse, planted medications in it, and placed it in the bushes,” Tapscott stated.

Hook’s name was then placed on the state abuse registry, and the Iowa Board of Nursing charged Hook with misappropriating medications.

A hearing was held, during which Hook continued to deny stealing any resident medications, saying she often stored such drugs in her purse so she could more quickly dispense them to residents at the care center.  At the same hearing, she suggested the drugs may have been planted in her purse.

After finding Hook lacked credibility, the board voted to suspend her license indefinitely, although she will be eligible for reinstatement after completing a substance abuse evaluation and any treatment that is recommended. After reinstatement, her license will be placed on probation for one year, subject to monitoring and other conditions imposed by the board.

In its decision, the board praised Hook, saying she “is passionate about nursing and cares for her patients. She was well-liked by her co-workers.

Board takes other disciplinary actions

In unrelated matters, the board recently reported taking action in several other disciplinary cases:

— Narcotic use: In July and August of last year, Alissa Byers of Sioux City was convicted of domestic assault, possession of marijuana, possession of oxycodone and a felony charge of obtaining a prescription drug by fraud. She also was diagnosed with a severe opiate and cannabis disorder, according to the Board of Nursing.

After Byers was convicted, the board charged Byers with the fraudulent use of prescription blanks while employed at an Iowa clinic. The board recently agreed to settle the case by placing Byers’ license on probation for at least 12 months.

Court records indicate Byers worked at the Tri-State Specialists clinic in Sioux City when the crimes took place. Prosecutors alleged that over a 14-month period, Byers submitted 21 prescriptions to two pharmacies in the name of her husband, without his knowledge and for her own use.

She then submitted an additional 19 prescriptions to three different pharmacies in her own name and for her own use, prosecutors alleged. She also was accused of using deceit to have one doctor at the clinic authorize controlled-substance opiates for various patients – replacing the patients’ names on the prescriptions with her own name, and then altering the patient files in the Tri-State computer system to conceal her actions.

In a previous disciplinary case from March 2020, the Board of Nursing ordered Byers to undergo seven hours of educational training after alleging that she had attempted to tamper with a pre-employment drug screen by using another person’s urine. At the time, Byers tested positive for a prescription pain medication for which she had no valid prescription, the board found.

— Unauthorized drug dispensing: In June, the board charged Nicole Siebels of Monticello with improper delegation of nursing responsibilities. According to the board, Siebels worked as the executive director of an assisted living center when, on multiple occasions, she provided her computer-access credentials to a non-certified staff member. She did this, the board said, so that when she was off duty, the other worker could document in medical records that residents had received their medications.

The board agreed to settle the case by requiring that Siebels receive 30 hours of education training on the concept of critical thinking. The board did not identify the assisted living center where Siebels worked or indicate whether the residents had actually received their medication.

Patient privacy: In January, the Iowa Board of Nursing charged Danielle Chambers of Council Bluffs with violating the confidentiality or privacy rights of a patient. The board alleged that around April 20, 2021, while employed at a hospital, Chambers used her personal cell phone to “record a medical incident involving a patient and shared it on social media.”

The board’s public statement of charges gives no indication as to the hospital where Chambers worked, the nature of the medical event, or whether the social-media post involved an audio or video recording.

The board recently approved a settlement agreement in the case, which stipulates that while Chambers’ license remains in full effect, she must take 30 hours of educational training on the federal Health Information Portability and Accountability Act.

According to board records, Chambers’ license was temporarily suspended in 2016, three years after she was convicted of drunken driving and one year after she was convicted of obtaining or attempting to obtain a prescription by deceit. At that time, Chambers was practicing under the name Danielle Frigge.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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