Registered Nurse Pleads Guilty To Patient Abuse

Attorney General Spitzer today announced the arrest and guilty plea of Joanne Morawski, a registered nurse at the Orange County Home and Infirmary Hospice in Goshen, New York, for removing a powerful narcotic patch from the chest of a 73-year-old male patient last November.

Appearing for arraignment this morning in Goshen Town Court before Judge Catherine Bartlett, Morawski pleaded guilty to the crime of Wilful Violation of Health Laws, and agreed to surrender her nursing license. Sentencing was set for April 13, 2000.

In 1990, Morawski was convicted of the crime of Obtaining a Controlled Substance by Fraud when, as a nurse at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey, she stole medications prescribed for patients.

"Every day patients in nursing homes put their lives and trust in the hands of nurses and other professional health care staff," said Spitzer. "For this employee to betray her sworn duty by stealing a patient's medication is offensive and inexcusable, and demonstrates a complete lack of compassion for the patient's condition."

Spitzer added, "Perhaps what's more disheartening is that this crime may have been prevented if the defendant had noted on her employment application that she previously had been convicted of stealing patients' prescribed medications."

According to prosecutors, Morawski, while working at the Orange County Home on the evening of November 8, 1999, left her assigned area and went to a different wing of the facility. As a medication nurse a few weeks earlier, she knew a patient in the wing had orders for a duragisic patch, containing 75 micrograms of the pain-killing medication, Fentanyl. Entering the patient's room on the pretext of seeing if the patch had been applied correctly, Morawski removed the patient's patch, put it in her pocket, and exited the room.

When interviewed by investigators from the Attorney's General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Morawski stated that she took the patch for her own use.

Attorney General Spitzer noted that other nursing home staff provided the patient with a replacement patch within a half-hour of Morawski removing the original one.

The Attorney General thanked the New York State Department of Health for its referral of the matter.

Morawski, 51, of 18 Craigville Road in Briarwood, has been licensed as a registered nurse in New York State since 1987. She was employed by Orange County Home and Infirmary Hospice from June 1997 to November 12, 1999, when she was terminated as a result of this crime.

The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Gilbert Epstein, of the Pearl River Regional Office of Attorney General Spitzer's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. All cases are handled under the direct supervision of Deputy Attorney General Jose Maldonado.

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