Nurse accused of diverting drugs takes stand at trial, denies allegations

  • 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 19, 2016

A traveling nurse accused of diverting drugs from Concord Hospital took the stand Wednesday on the penultimate day of her criminal trial, emphatically contesting the claims and suggesting she is the victim of one giant misunderstanding.

Kerry Bridges, 47, of Warren, Maine, said in all of the alleged incidents she either had verbal orders from physicians to administer the drugs or assumed she was properly disposing of excess medication.

“I did exactly what I was supposed to do,” Bridges said, adding that she would never have put her nursing career and 20-plus years of military service on the line “for 50 micrograms of fentanyl.”

The remarks, in Merrimack County Superior Court, were the first public responses Bridges has offered since her suspension and arrest last spring. She now faces 11 felony counts of illegal possession.

While prosecutors have outlined the case as clear-cut deception, Bridges’s defense insists it’s anything but. Instead, they insist she was unfairly and haphazardly targeted, and that the case exposes the serious flaws of an emergency department that still depends on paper records and whose administrators don’t realize how divergent policy and practice become in the rush of the job.

Prosecutors say doctors never signed off on the orders Bridges claims they gave her, and insist her behavior over the five weeks she worked in the hospital’s emergency department was suspicious. Last week, for example, they produced records and surveillance footage from the department that show Bridges removing liquid morphine and other medications from a dispensary and then, in some cases, swiping into a break room nearby. Hospital staff called the pattern unusual.

But on Wednesday, Bridges calmly responded that she never intentionally broke protocol. She said she routinely visited the break room to grab a snack, check her cell phone or use the staff restroom inside, which she assumed was cleaner than the public ones. She recalled having been told eating at the nurses stations was against protocol.

In one alleged incident, Bridges said she withdrew 100 micrograms of fentanyl, went to the bathroom, then administered half of the drug and disposed of the rest, sending a paper copy of the disposal to a separate department. The paper record was never found, but Bridges said it would not have been the first time that the hospital lost one of her paper records in translation, she said.

In another, Bridges said that her patient, a man with cancer, had been taking high doses of morphine at home and was at risk of going through withdrawals while he waited for hours for a bed in the main part of the hospital. She said his physician gave her the go-ahead to administer a small dosage of morphine as a preventative measure, and that she later documented it in her nurse’s notes.

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 said that doesn’t always happen given the frantic pace of the department.

“I know that’s the standard practice, and that’s what we strive to do,” she told prosecutor Brooke Belanger, “but as you’ve heard others testify, that doesn’t always happen.”

Bridges’s attorney, Jim Moir, criticized the hospital and state investigators for never reaching out to Bridges for explanations before arresting her in Maine and labeling her a “fugitive from justice.”

Bridges testified that she was never once questioned by hospital officials about the discrepancies or given the chance to submit to a drug test. Staff have said she showed no outward signs of drug use.

In fact, Moir tried to show jurors Wednesday that there is no reason to believe Bridges has any history of drug use. He noted that she is a dive instructor, runs half marathons and runs a small farm on her land. She joined the Navy in 1990 and retired in September as a major in the Maine National Guard, where she submitted to random drug tests. She has no criminal record.

Bridges was accused of misconduct in 2014 by Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, but it was never raised Wednesday in court. She offered to take a drug test but the hospital declined, according to an order last year by the New Hampshire nursing board. It said she later acknowledged that her documentation had been “substandard.”

Prosecutors will continue cross-examine Bridges today. They have called all of their witnesses, and Bridges is the defense’s only witness. Closing arguments are expected to follow.

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