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Nurse accused of diverting drugs from Concord Hospital goes on trial

  • Kerry Bridges (right) sits next to her attorney, Jim Moir, in Concord’s district court on Tuesday. Department of Justice investigator Mark Myrdek (left) sits on the stand. (NICK REID / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Thursday, May 12, 2016

Twelve years ago, Anne Lesperance was a young nurse in Maine finding guidance from a seasoned colleague named Kerry Bridges.

By spring of last year, Lesperance had risen to head of emergency services at Concord Hospital, and her old friend was in need of a job.

“She was one of the top three nurses I’d ever worked with,” Lesperance recalled Wednesday, saying she helped bring Bridges on. “I thought she was going to be a great mentor for the staff.”

But within weeks of Bridges’s arrival, Lesperance was met with an entirely different outcome: concerns from staff that Bridges was illegally diverting drugs. An investigation was launched, and before long Bridges was suspended, arrested and publicly condemned by prosecutors.

Bridges, 47, of Warren, Maine, continues to deny the claims and has taken the case to trial this week in Merrimack County Superior Court. She faces 11 felony drug counts.

On Wednesday, prosecutors produced hospital records and video surveillance from the emergency department that show Bridges removing liquid morphine, a powerful narcotic, and other medications from a locked dispensary on three separate nights last spring. In one, she fills a syringe with the morphine one minute, then swipes a security card to enter a break room the next minute.

Lesperance testified that it would be impossible for Bridges to have walked back to her patient’s room, safely administer the drug and then enter the break room. Bridges also had no official order to withdraw the medication in the first place, she said.

On another night, at the end of March, Bridges can be seen removing morphine, aspirin and nitroglycerin from the same dispensary. According to her notes, prosecutors said, she administered the second two drugs within the 10 minutes, but waited more than a half hour to inject the morphine. Her card was then used to swipe into the break room, and immediately after, surveillance footage showed her returning to the dispensary.

Bridges’s patient that night, according to records, never received any morphine.

Lesperance said Bridges’s movements were part of an unusual pattern in which she would regularly go back and forth between the break area and a central medication room. Most of the nurses in the department rarely find time to sit down and eat lunch, let alone take a break, she said.

Bridges’s attorney, Jim Moir, has yet to cross-examine Lesperance, but he is likely to point to procedural discrepancies in the department – specifically when patients are reassigned to a physician in the main hospital, but have to sometimes wait hours before they are physically transferred. In the interim, Moir has noted, it can be difficult to accurately document when a directive comes in to administer medication. That is especially true of the emergency department, he suggested Wednesday, because it is the only wing of the hospital that still uses paper records.

Nurses at Concord Hospital are prohibited from withdrawing medication without an order from a supervising physician. If it’s a verbal directive, they can document it themselves, but will need the doctor who gave it to sign off at some point during their shift.

Bridges was suspended from the hospital last May. Her privilege to practice in the state was also revoked. She had been practicing as a traveling nurse from Maine under a multi-state compact.

A lower court judge dismissed some of the initial charges against her, finding a lack of evidence. Prosecutors moved forward with the rest, securing more than a dozen felony indictments. Some of those have since been dropped.

Lesparance and other staff have said Bridges displayed no outward signs of drug use. One nursing colleague who testified Wednesday said as much.

“She seemed fine, right?” Moir asked.

“As far as I saw, yes,” the nurse responded.

Bridges has no standing criminal record, Moir said. She served in the U.S. Navy until 1999, and has been an active member of the Maine National Guard in the years since.

Bridges was accused of similar misconduct in 2014 by Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, according to an order last year by the New Hampshire nursing board. She offered to take a drug test but the hospital declined, according to the order. It said she later admitted in writing that her documentation had been “substandard.”

The trial is expected to continue into next week.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)