Thursday, August 05, 1999

Hospital sued over narcotics accusation

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In a role reversal, lawyer William V. Gustavson sued Jewish Hospital on behalf of a nurse anesthetist who says he was maliciously and falsely accused of a drug offense.

        Thomas Martin wants the hospital and others to pay him $5 million for allegedly violating his rights and embarrassing him among colleagues of more than 20 years.

        His suit, filed in U.S. District Court by Mr. Gustavson, says this isn't the first time Jewish Hospital has initiated an unsuccessful prosecution over inconsistent drug records.

        Nine years ago, Mr. Gustavson defended the officer who arrested Jewish Hospital nurse Tracey Carter after she was accused of drug theft. Ms. Carter was acquitted and sued.

        Wednesday, Mr. Gustavson recalled, “I saw Martin's case and I said, "Hey, they know better. They've been through this before.'”

        How well he knew.

        Mr. Gustavson was Cincinnati's chief trial counsel who settled the city's liability shortly before jurors awarded more than $1 million to Ms. Carter and attorney Bruce B. Whitman.

        Jewish Hospital paid about two-thirds of that verdict.

        Co-defendants in Mr. Martin's suit are Daniel Palmasano, a member of the hospital security staff; Hamilton County Sheriff's Cpls. Matthew Guy and Kevin Koo; and Elaine Jones, a field representative of the Ohio pharmacy board.

        Mr. Martin's complaint says:

        Mr. Palmasano investigated unused vials of the narcotic Fentanyl and Versed tranquilizer found in an operating room late last year. Those drugs are commonly used in the operating room where Mr. Martin and others worked.

        A discrepancy in a heart patient's documents indicated the hospital pharmacy issued more Versed than the patient's record indicated was used. Mr. Martin says he correctly completed the pharmacy record but failed to record the use of the final vial of Versed.

        That kind of mistake happens during intense, complex and lengthy operations, Mr. Gustavson said. “It shouldn't happen, but it does, and it's no crime.”

        Jewish Hospital knew Mr. Martin's paperwork error was not evidence of theft, especially given the outcome of Ms. Carter's document discrepancy case.

        Deputies — assigned to the Regional Enforcement Narcotics Unit (RENU) — and the pharmacy board representative were called in.

        Mr. Martin consented to blood and urine tests and searches of his locker and car. Tests and searches uncovered nothing untoward, but Mr. Martin lost four days' pay while Jewish Hospital waited for test results.

        Cpls. Guy and Koo arrested Mr. Martin in December and charged him with a misdemeanor, failing to keep accurate drug records.

        Four months later, Municipal Judge Robert Taylor dismissed the charge at the request of the prosecutor and Cpl. Guy because the Ohio drug records law did not cover Mr. Martin as a nurse anesthetist.

        All of this embarrassed Mr. Martin among his colleagues, damaged his career and violated his rights, the lawsuit said.

        Bill Winsley, pharmacy board executive director, had not seen Mr. Martin's complaint and would not discuss his accusations. However, Mr. Winsley said Ms. Jones acted within the scope of her duties because the board enforces state drug laws as well as pharmacist licensing rules.

        Speaking for the corporals and RENU, the sheriff's office said it would not comment on any lawsuit.

        A spokeswoman for the Health Alliance of Cincinnati — which includes Jewish Hospital Kenwood — would not comment on the claims.


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