A nurse who stole medication from patients at a seniors home to feed her drug addiction has been given house arrest.
Deanne Bartlett was sentenced to a 15-month conditional sentence, with two years' probation, today in provincial court in St. John's.
She pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing a controlled drug (morphine and Dilaudud), two counts of theft under $5,000 and a single count of mischief, relating to altering narcotic control records at Chancellor Park.
The 45-year-old had worked as a licenced practical nurse at Chancellor Park seniors home on Portugal Cove Road, where in October 2012, she stole two vials of morphine and nine tablets of Dilaudud.
The manager first noticed the drug counts were off on Oct. 30, 2012. When she checked other records from previous dates throughout the month, it was discovered there were more missing tablets and Bartlett had altered them, "in an attempt to cover her tracks," Crown prosecutor Scott Kerr said in court today.
Not long after the meds were discovered missing, the son of one of the residents noticed there had been tampering with his mother's medication. Managers found out that Bartlett had substituted the woman's pain medication with Toloxin, a cardiac drug. The woman became ill after the incident, but there was no evidence to prove the change of drugs caused her illness. She recovered a short time afterwards.
When confronted about the drugs, Bartlett immediately confessed, admitting she was a drug addict. She was fired from her job.
"I did it," she told a co-worker, who asked Bartlett about the missing narcotics. "I deserve it."
Kerr said what Bartlett did was breach the trust of those who trusted her the most, which is demonstrated in the victim impact statement of the woman whose medication was switched.
"When this happened, I started to lose trust in people," the woman wrote. "Not only was she my nurse, she was my best friend. She meant so much to me. I was so excited when she was on shift. When this happened, I was shocked. At first I felt pity for her, but then anger."
Federal Crown prosecutor Robin Fowler pointed out that Bartlett has lost her job and her future as a nurse is now in jeopardy because of what she did.
Bartlett cried as she spoke.
Defence lawyer Mike King said Bartlett is very remorseful. He said at the age of 40, she started experimenting with drugs, taking Percocet.
"It was her way of coping with stress," said King, who said Bartlett was dealing with separation from her husband.
He said in October 2012, during the time of the offences, "she hit rock bottom."
Being relieved from her job, he said, served as a deterrence and she sought help in addictions counselling. He said she is now in a stable relationship, has a good rapport with her ex-husband and has family support. He said she was clean for a year, when she had a slip in her recovery shortly after she was charged, but is back on the right track.
He also pointed out that Bartlett's pre-sentence report was "overwhelmingly positive" and that she has no prior criminal record.
He said even the owner and operator of Chancellor Park described Bartlett as reliable and hard-working, and said she would re-hire Bartlett if she gets her licence to practice back again.
"I think that speaks volumes to Ms. Bartlett's character overall," King said.
In sentencing, Judge Mark Linehan went along with an agreed recommendation from the lawyers.
"It was a betrayal of your patients, your family and even yourself," the judge said. "It's had a huge impact on your career."
He said swapping medication from an elderly patient is a serious offence.
"The consequences could have been dire," he said. "(Had it been proven it contributed to the woman's sickness), you would not have been walking out of here today."
However, he commended Bartlett for seeking help with her addiction and said he hoped to never see her back in court.
* This article has been corrected for typographical errors.