Jurors to decide fate of nurse facing drug charges

  • 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
Friday, May 20, 2016

The fate of Kerry Bridges went to jurors Thursday, with a prosecutor insisting the nurse’s story doesn’t add up, and the defense countering that there is no hard evidence to prove it.

Straying from protocol “is not a crime,” defense attorney Jim Moir said in closing, comparing the investigation into Bridges’s tenure last spring at Concord Hospital to a witch hunt.

But Assistant Attorney General Brooke Belanger said surveillance footage and hospital records overwhelmingly show that Bridges, 47, was skimming drugs from the hospital’s supply and attempting to cover her tracks by saying she had verbal orders from physicians.

Belanger reminded jurors of half a dozen times over five weeks in which Bridges appeared to remove opioids from a locked dispensary and then go directly to a staff break room, describing the movements as highly unusual. Why would an emergency nurse prepare a syringe with a powerful narcotic and then go grab a snack or use the restroom, she asked.

“This just doesn’t make sense,” Belanger said, citing several specific encounters.

One night, a doctor supposedly told Bridges to give a patient liquid painkillers, she said. But the same physician later testified that she never issued the directive, and wouldn’t have anyway, because the patient in question wasn’t taking liquid medication or experiencing pain.

On another, Bridges reportedly disposed of excess fentanyl and recorded it with paperwork that has since gone missing. But she disposed of other non-opioid medications that same night and documented those electronically. Why not do the same with the fentanyl, Belanger asked.

“Is what the defendant telling you credible?” she told jurors. “Is everyone to blame but her?”

Moir responded that prosecutors and hospital staff have been blind from the start to see how Bridges’s behavior could be anything but criminal. They assumed her guilt from the beginning, he said, despite uncovering no evidence of a motive, no signs of drug use, and no actual footage or eyewitness accounts of Bridges pocketing any drugs.

Beyond Bridges’s reputation being destroyed, Moir said, the case has exposed serious record-keeping flaws at the hospital, as well as a general lack of understanding about how nurses function on the ground.

On the stand Wednesday, Bridges acknowledged that she had visited the break room often, but said it was always to grab a snack or check her cell phone or use the staff restroom, which was cleaner than the public ones. She also claimed it’s not always possible to get doctors to physically sign off on medications they want administered.

“That’s what we strive to do,” she said, “but as you’ve heard others testify, that doesn’t always happen.”

During cross-examination Thursday, however, Belanger noted that other nurses had said they almost always get verbal orders signed.

Belanger was critical of specific accounts, too. Bridges had testified, for instance, that one night she withdrew a 2-milligram vial of Dilaudid, just in case her patient might need a second dose later. But a colleague said Bridges told her that night that she took out the 2-milligram vial because there were no 1-milligram vials left. Which was it, Belanger asked.

Both, Bridges replied. There were no 1-milligram vials left, she explained, so she took out a 2-milligram vial and kept the excess in case the patient ended up needing it.

But Belanger noted that the dispensary records from that night showed five 1-milligram vials left in the machine. Bridges answered that the drawer could have been malfunctioning, making it impossible to access the 1-milligram vials at the time.

Did she ever report a malfunction, Belanger asked. No, Bridges said.

Bridges, of Warren, Maine, is facing 11 felony counts. Jurors began deliberating about 1 p.m. Thursday, but had yet to reach a verdict by 4. They were set to reconvene this morning in Merrimack County Superior Court.