Nurse allegedly stole nursing home patients’ morphine, replaced it with colored water

A nurse from Lexington is facing numerous criminal charges after being accused of taking morphine from a Lawrenceburg nursing home and replacing it with a mixture of water and blue food coloring.

Abigail Hall, a registered nurse at Signature Healthcare at Heritage Hall Rehab and Wellness Center in Anderson County, allegedly said she had been stealing the patients’ pain medicine since January.

An officer from the Lawrenceburg Police Department said in a complaint warrant that she was dispatched to the nursing facility Aug. 27 because of a report that an employee was leaving work intoxicated.

The officer conducted a traffic stop on Hall’s vehicle and initiated a DUI investigation when Hall failed to signal as she turned into the parking lot of a gas station on Main Street, the warrant states.

While the officer was conducting a field sobriety test, a nurse at Heritage Hall told the Lawrenceburg 911 Center that someone at the facility had found the top to a morphine bottle in a restroom after Hall had gone inside and stayed for an extended period of time. The facility then determined that 30 mL of morphine was missing, according to the warrant. The nurse said she had found Hall’s backpack outside the building.

The complaint says another officer located the backpack near a Dumpster outside Heritage Hall and brought it to the traffic stop. Inside, police said they found seven syringes containing a blue liquid medication, along with used syringes, a tube of blue food coloring, three bottles of sodium chloride, four scopolamine patches and a vial of the cefepime.

Cefepime is an antibiotic used for treating bacterial infections, and scopolamine is used for motion sickness and postoperative nausea and vomiting, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The complaint warrant says the medication bottles were not labeled with patient names, and “through investigation it was determined that the legend drugs were the same used by Heritage Hall.”

The officer said Hall asked her during the search, “Do you want me to tell you the truth?”

After being read her Miranda rights, the officer said Hall told her “the seven syringes with the blue liquid was morphine that she had taken from Heritage Hall.”

While caring for 21 patients during her shift that night, Hall said she had taken a dose of morphine “because she wanted to kill herself.”

Police said in the complaint warrant that Hall then began having chest pains, and while being taken to Frankfort Regional Medical Center, she allegedly told a paramedic that she had taken Percocet and phenergan while working as well.

“Ms. Hall also advised that she had taken the morphine and replaced it with tap water and blue food coloring. Ms. Hall advised that she had been conducting in this unlawful act since January,” the complaint warrant states.

She is charged with 21 counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, because police say she was under the influence of the controlled substances while caring for 21 patients, “which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury,” the warrant states.

Among the other charges against Hall are three counts of knowingly abusing or neglecting an adult, since she had signed out morphine for three patients during her shift, allegedly stealing their pain medicine from them, and three counts of tampering with physical evidence, since she allegedly “mutilated” the medicine of the three patients with water and food coloring “and then concealed the bag containing the morphine outside the building once law enforcement was notified,” the warrant states.

According to police, Hall has an Ohio nursing license, but her Kentucky license has expired, leading to one count of knowingly posing as a licensed nurse.

She is also charged with eight counts of theft of a legend drug, seven counts of first-degree possession of a controlled substance (opiates) first offense, seven counts of theft by unlawful taking or disposition of a controlled substance, one count of buying or possessing drug paraphernalia, and one count of failure to signal.

A spokeswoman for Signature Healthcare said Hall is employed by an outside staffing agency and was not a Signature employee.

“The safety and well-being of our residents and stakeholders is our top priority at Signature HealthCARE. We commend our dedicated staff at Heritage Hall for reacting quickly in this matter, and contacting the appropriate authorities,” Signature spokeswoman Ann Bowdan Wilder said in a statement.

She said the company “will continue to cooperate with authorities in their investigation.”

When asked whether any patients suffered negative outcomes as a result of Hall’s alleged activity, Wilder said, “Our residents are safe, and our residents are good.”

Hall, 50, was being held Saturday in the Shelby County Detention Center.

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