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HENNEPIN COUNTY: Nurse not charged

Author / Coordinator: Tom Majeski
St. Paul Pioneer Press
December 2003

A former registered nurse at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale accused of overmedicating five terminally ill patients who later died will not face felony charges, the Hennepin County attorney's office announced Friday.

"The Health Department report said it could not show that the extra morphine caused the patients' deaths and we couldn't, either," said senior Assistant County Attorney Paul Scoggin.

"It's the right decision; there's no question in my mind,'' said Phil Resnick, a Minneapolis attorney representing the nurse, Stacy Doriott, 26, of Plymouth. “ We're elated. That's a big weight off of my client.

"You had people who were going to die within a very short period of time, regardless of the medication,'' Resnick said. “ That's the bottom line."

Scoggin said the case now will be turned over to the Robbinsdale city attorney for consideration of several less-serious charges, including dispensing a controlled substance without a prescription, mistreatment of confined persons and practicing medicine without a license, a gross misdemeanor.

Doriott was fired by the hospital in April and reached an agreement in September with the Minnesota Board of Nursing that prevents her from practicing nursing in the state until the matter is settled. Shirley Brekken, the board's executive director, said she does not know when that might be.

Health Department investigators said Doriott gave four terminally ill patients excessive doses of morphine in January. All died shortly afterward.

In March, Doriott gave a fifth patient an excessive dose of morphine. The patient survived and was transferred to the hospital's inpatient hospice unit, where he later died.

Hospital officials said the dosages were properly recorded on patient charts, and it did not appear that Doriott attempted to hide the amount of drugs administered.

Family members of one of the victims, 44-year-old Michael Watkins, were bewildered by the decision, said Jim Lord, a Minneapolis attorney representing them in a possible lawsuit against the nurse and the hospital.

However, the family is relieved that other legal action is proceeding, he said.

"This does not in any way impede our civil suit against the nurse or North Memorial," Lord said. "We cannot file a medical malpractice suit until an expert gives us an opinion that there was medical malpractice and it led to death. The record is in the hands of two medical experts."

A decision on whether to file a lawsuit will be made sometime early next year, he added.

According to Health Department records, Watkins was being treated for a cocaine overdose when he died Jan. 26; 12 minutes after Doriott gave him 10 milligrams of morphine. His doctor had ordered 2 to 4 milligrams of morphine.

"One of the complicating factors in my case is that Mrs. Watkins did not want to pull the life support and she feels she was pressured by North Memorial," Lord said. Though Watkins was near death at the time, Lord said, he believes removing him from life support made him "really gravely ill."

Lord said Watkins had been gravely ill on previous occasions "and he recovered and walked out'' of the hospital.

Minneapolis attorney William Sieben is representing the family of Dianne Gray, a 54-year-old patient who died Jan. 26, 13 minutes after Doriott gave her 10 milligrams of morphine and 10 milligrams of Versed, a drug that relieves anxiety and triggers drowsiness.

"The family is very respectful of the county attorney's decision,'' Sieben said. “ The family has no problem whatsoever with what has and is occurring."

Sieben said his clients also intend to proceed with a lawsuit against the hospital.

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