Ashton Paul Daigle
Ashton Paul Daigle

BOULDER, Colo. –

A “misunderstanding” was responsible for Boulder Community Hospital cutting off communication with more than 300 patients who may have been affected by the theft of a powerful pain killer last year, a hospital spokesman said Thursday.

But there are still no plans for the hospital to alert patients about shocking new revelations in the case, including that the former nurse charged in the thefts admitted to prosecutors that he sometimes used dirty needles to replace the drug with saline or tap water.

Ashton Paul Daigle, 27, of Lafayette, faces more than 170 charges for allegedly stealing fentanyl — a strong narcotic prescription medication that can be addictive.

Federal authorities have since invited the more than 300 surgical patients who may have been affected by the thefts to view a videotaped interview with Daigle, in which he admits to sometimes using dirty needles to cover his crimes between Sept. 24 and Oct. 17 last year.

Hospital spokesman Rich Sheehan was among those who viewed the tape on Feb. 17, but told the Camera last week — after a patient spoke out about the interview — that the hospital was instructed not to talk to patients about it.

He said no notifications were sent to patients about the dirty-needle issue because the hospital’s “hands were tied,” and because the federal prosecutors didn’t share all the relevant information.

Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has since denied those claims.

“Categorically, we did not instruct (the hospital) not to speak with people about this,” Dorschner said. “We’re working with the hospital. It’s our commitment to communicate with all the victims.”

He emphasized that prosecutors are also working to tell patients about Daigle’s ongoing testing for HIV and Hepatitis — test that so far have come back negative.

On Thursday, Sheehan said he apparently mistook instructions to refer questions about the legal case to the U.S. Attorney as an order that the hospital should withhold all information from potentially affected patients.

“There was definitely a misunderstanding,” Sheehan said, adding that police sometimes ask the hospital not to release certain information. “It didn’t seem that out of the ordinary to me.”

Asked whether any hospital officials expressed concern that the U.S. Attorney’s Office would apparently forbid them from discussing health issues with patients, Sheehan responded that there was, but no one asked for clarity from federal prosecutors in the last month.

“It is something we will definitely talk about and see what we can learn,” he said.

Sheehan said the hospital began mailing out letters to all 300-plus patients on Wednesday. He declined to provide a copy of the letter on Thursday, or describe its content.

The letter doesn’t contain information about the dirty needles allegedly used in the thefts, he said, nor any other information from the taped interview with Daigle.

“We’re trying to formulate a communications plan to give people the information they need,” Sheehan said.

He said the hospital will also continue to provide free services for any of the affected patients who want to be tested for HIV, Hepatitis or other relevant diseases. He also said the acts of one former employee don’t “represent the whole hospital.”

“Every hospital employee whom I have talked with has been horrified and angered by this crime,” he said. “We have hundreds of other employees … doing the best they can.”

Maggie Chamberlin Holben, owner of the Absolutely Public Relations firm in Lakewood, has specialized in the field of medical public relations and marketing for more than 25 years and is a certified industry analyst.

She said that, in her experience, the Boulder hospital is likely facing a host of pressure stemming from the incident.

“Obviously there is a huge amount of liability in a situation like this, so PR people — who are really the voice of the top management — they are going to be very careful about what they say and what they do,” said Holben, who is not involved in the Boulder case.

She said if she was in the hospital spokesperson’s position, she would immediately work to get relevant information out to patients, and the public.

“It would be common sense if something that serious was going on that you would get with your CEO and your legal person and say, ‘woo hoo, this is potentially publicly embarrassing or a public health concern and we better figure out a response that is both in good conscience and legal.'”

She said hospitals in particular have a responsibility to be “as open as possible, and accurate.”

“Open communication and providing all of the proper awareness about concerns and threats … that’s pretty much standard fare,” Holben said. “Especially in matters that can scare people to death, like their health.”

Contact Camera Staff Writer Heath Urie at 303-473-1328 or urieh@dailycamera.com.

Archived comments

Get a clue administrators.Pay your nurses a decent salary and you wouldn’t need to hire drug addicts.

The Boulder doctors wouldn’t need to engage in Ponzi schemes with the money the nurses should be receiving, then run crying to attorneys who will be paid the money that the nurses should have received.

Can BCH survive the resulting law suits?How is your insurance?With AIG?

creation

3/19/2009 5:59:35 PM

not sure I understand the correlation between what you make and being a drug addict.

bouldermeister

3/19/2009 6:57:48 PM

Let me get this straight –

BCH sent letters out to all affected patients around the time the nurse was arrested. I remember a mention in the letters about the possibility of bloodstream infections, since the saline could have been contaminated. BCH offered free follow up to any of the patients.

The US Attorneys showed the patients the videotape of the nurse admitting that the needles used to put saline in the narcotic vials was contaminated with. The patients were notified, and BCH still says that they can receive free follow-up. So far the nurse has tested negative for hepatitis and HIV?

So what does BCH need to do? Obviously, the dirty needle thing was disclosed by the US Atty. Am I supposed to be outraged at BCH because the US Atty was the one to tell the patients about the needles, and not the hospital? Seems like the Camera is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill…and by this in no way am I saying it’s not a big deal for the people affected by this. They are lucky that Mr. Daigle has tested negative for Hep and HIV. I think the Camera is trying to make BCH look like some kind of monster hospital that doesn’t care about anyone but themselves. The case is actually the opposite.

dludler

3/19/2009 7:09:21 PM

“Get a clue administrators. Pay your nurses a decent salary and you wouldn’t need to hire drug addicts.”

I know plenty of poor people who aren’t drug addicts who stick people with dirty needles.

So, instead of saying anything about the selfish fiend who did this, you pulled out your soapbox…

Idiots like these live in Boulder.

dd_unlimited

3/19/2009 8:22:58 PM

Moral of the story:Stay as far away from hospitals as possible.Those places ‘ll frickin’ kill ya!

grandjacques

3/19/2009 8:56:01 PM

“There was definitely a misunderstanding,” Sheehan said, adding that police sometimes ask the hospital not to release certain information. “It didn’t seem that out of the ordinary to me.”

Riiiiiiight. If you live in Russia !!

TheBitterTruth

3/19/2009 10:33:29 PM

U.S. healthcare system pinched by nursing shortage

Sun Mar 8, 2009 8:10am EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. healthcare system is pinched by a persistent nursing shortage that threatens the quality of patient care even as tens of thousands of people are turned away from nursing schools, according to experts.

An estimated 116,000 registered nurse positions are unfilled at U.S. hospitals and nearly 100,000 jobs go vacant in nursing homes, experts said.

One reason for the faculty squeeze is that a nurse with a graduate degree needed to teach can earn more as a practicing nurse, about $82,000, than teaching, about $68,000.

http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSTRE5270VC20090308

TheBitterTruth

3/19/2009 10:37:33 PM

Someone should contact the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or CDPHE.If this isn’t a public health issue, I don’t know what is.Who knows what else this nurse did while treating patients.BCH certainly isn’t telling.

At this point, they are quite obviously filtering all communication through their attorneys.Draw your own conclusions from that.Rather than provide all 300 patients with peace of mind and proper disclosure, they are lawyering up.

Children’s Hospital drug tests every single potential employee, even those not involved with patient care.I would hope that even in politically correct Boulder, BCH would be smart enough to do the same.Doubtful.Does anyone do anything sensible any Boulder anymore?

LouisvilleResident

3/19/2009 11:17:52 PM

Dirty needles, smeedles !

Fentanyl is an intramuscular injection, so the chances that after an IM injection, and after then drawing up sterile USP saline, then refilling the fentanyl ampule with saline, that there would be any live HIV or Hep contagion in the ampule are nearly zero.

That he doesn’t have HIV or Hep makes the exposure to the patients exactly zero.

Stop the phony hysterics.

TheBitterTruth

3/19/2009 11:46:28 PM

The problem seems to be that at every corner, the hospital seems to dig themselves a deeper hole on this by not being honest up front.

Everyone is lucky in this case that all were healthy other than a serious disease with this Nurses addiction.He could have put people at risk, but in the end, did not.

I wish BCH would just come clean quickly about this so they wouldn’t draw the ire of so many of us.The way this is filtering out reminds me of many of my worst Dr’s appointments where they were short and brushed me aside.Its a bad attitude and there is no need.What happened happened.They just need to deal with it.That’s life, no one or no thing is perfect. Dr’s are the first crew though to be scared to death of lawyers.I understand where they are coming from, but lying and slowing down the truth which obviously will comes out seems to only invite lawsuits.

I would like to see the hospital discuss pro-actively their plans to make sure this does not happen in the future or at least acknowledge that you can’t trust everyone and they are doing their best.In many non emergency cases a simple “two person dispensary rule” would cut this down, idea being two people would have to be in the room when anyone has access to these medicines.

I would prefer to trust, but considering how totally wrong this could have gone, it is worth considering.It may be such though that you write this up as a bad apple and that the current system does generally work.Not my decision, but I’ll be interested to see what they decide to do.

This guy gives addicts a really bad name.

super_boulder

3/20/2009 12:41:16 AM

No.Muscles are full of blood.Blood carries Hep C and AIDS.Fentanyl is also given prior to surgery IV.Also, potential exposure to blood.Phony hysterics aka ignoramus or more.

Addicts are sick.Big Pharma, Insurance companies, hospital corporations,

M.D’s who accept bribes and kickbacks perpetuate the system and health care crisis.Not addicted nurses.

creation

3/20/2009 12:44:11 AM

Boulder County Hospital is full of crap. They were afraid of a law suit and hoped to put off the information coming out until it couldn’t be proven that any diseases people contracted were impossible to link positively to the hospital. They decided to withhold information that could have potentially saved people’s lives if they had been exposed to HIV and given anti-viral meds early.

I HATE the hospital for doing this. I’ve never received more than crappy treatment at this second rate hospital and now I know why.

Flyonthewall

3/20/2009 1:03:52 AM

IM injections do not draw blood up into the syringe like IV junkies draw blood up into the syringe to make sure they registered a vein.

This nurse didn’t use the dirty needles to inject patients, he occasionally re-used the needle after his own illicit IM injection to then draw sterile saline and place it into the ampules he stole from.

At some later time, the ampules that now contained diluted fentanyl, or simply saline, were then drawn upon to medicate patients.

The chances of HIV surviving outside human blood stream for more than a few minutes are next to nil, it’s a very fragile virus. The fentanyl citrate inj. solution is buffered with sodium hydroxide and/or hydrochloric acid.

Given that this nurse did not have HIV, or Hep, the chances of transmitting a non-existent infection are exactly ZERO.

It’s sensationalized hype and hysteria.

TheBitterTruth

3/20/2009 1:10:36 AM

Get that BCH CEOon the case. After all, he makes $1.2 million dollars a year.

boulderpersonage1

3/20/2009 9:40:01 AM