Fake nurse tries to steal pain meds right from patients' IVs

SEATTLE -- A woman who impersonated a nurse tried to steal patients’ pain medications right out of their IVs in their hospital rooms at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center, police said Tuesday.

The suspect remains at large, police said.

The first incident occurred April 13 when a patient told hospital staff that an apparent nurse came into his room and started manipulating his patient-administered pain medicine machine, a Patient-Controlled Analgesia Pump or PCA.

The patient said he asked the woman what she was doing and that she turned and said she would get the patient’s regular nurse.

“When the victim’s real nurse came into the room, she noticed that the victim’s line from his PCA to his body had been cut and that pain medication was dripping on the floor,” police said in a statement. “Pry marks on the PCA were also discovered where the suspect apparently tried to pry open the machine to gain access to the pain medication inside.”

Shortly after that, the same woman was seen on another floor looking into patients’ rooms, police said. A hospital staff member asked the woman what she was doing, to which she responded she was there to check the PCA machines, police said.

“At that point the suspect went into another room where there was family present with a patient,” the police statement said. “The suspect acted as if she was checking the PCA when the alarm went off.  As the suspect left the room a family member noticed that there was blood dripping on the floor and saw the lines to the patient’s PCA had been cut.”

Police said the only hospital property that appears to have been taken was approximately two feet of tubing from the PCA machines and possibly some pain medication from the tubes.

The suspect was described as white, in her mid-30s to mid-40s, with shoulder-length blonde hair pulled back or in a ponytail.  She was last seen wearing a blue blouse (similar to hospital staff "scrubs"), black business slacks and shiny black shoes that resembled hospital staff attire.

"She was described as being very confident walking around the hospital as if she owned the place. She was speaking medical terminology and was just very comfortable,” Seattle Police Department spokeswoman Renee Witt said.

Late Tuesday, Swedish released a statement that read in part:

“No harm came to any Swedish patients involved in this 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.”

It's the kind of crime that's hard to comprehend for family members such as Lynn Etherton, who was at Swedish Medical Center Tuesday visiting her stepfather.

"It kind of makes me nervous," Etherton said. "I can't be there 24/7, but when I visit him it would be nice to know that everybody there is caring about him and making sure he's OK."

Another visitor at the hospital, Janet Gillies, said, "I think it's frightening.  It's not something I would ever thought of happening. It really makes you want to be on the lookout, checking ID and what not. It's sad that we have to do that, but sounds like we need to.”