SPRINGFIELD, MASS. — A Brattleboro man well known for his charitable work in Africa has agreed to plead guilty in U.S. District Court in Springfield, Mass., to stealing pain medication from the hospital's automated drug dispensing machine.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office Springfield Branch Office, Daniel Herlocker, 41, of Brattleboro, a former nurse at Franklin Baystate Medical Center in Greenfield, Mass., pleaded guilty to a charge of acquiring and obtaining controlled substances by deception and subterfuge.
In the fall 2014, while Herlocker was employed as a nurse at Franklin County Medical Center, he diverted Dilaudid, also known as hydromorphone, as well as morphine from sterile cartridge units known as carpujects. The carpujects were stored in an automated drug dispensing machine. Herlocker syphoned the drugs from the carpujects with sterile needles and replaced the medications with sterile saline solution.
According to the press release, Herlocker could receive up to eight years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
In late 2014, the Reformer wrote a story about Herlocker's planned January 2015 trip to Rwanda to help build homes with money that had been donated for the cause by families, friends and strangers.
In January 2014, he and his wife traveled to Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, and learned about the program to build homes through Rwanda Sustainable Families.
"Last year, it was probably the best human experience I've ever had," Herlocker told the Reformer in December 2014. "It was just people coming together for the purposes of good and it felt wonderful to be a part of it."
On Jan. 7, Herlocker was in court in Springfield to admit when he worked in Baystate Franklin Medical Center's intensive care unit, he siphoned morphine and another powerful painkiller intended for patients and replaced the medication with saline solution while in he was in the throes of addiction.
He told U.S. District Judge Mark G. Mastroianni that he took a sterile needle to withdraw the drugs from an automated syringe, secreted them into containers for his own use then refilled the syringes with saline. He then resealed the packaging with Krazy Glue, Herlocker said. Another nurse on the unit discovered the theft when he or she suspected one of the carpujects appeared to have been tampered with. The hospital conducted an audit and discovered "an unusual number" of orders and subsequent cancellations for the drugs by Herlocker, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Goodwin.
Herlocker told Mastroianni that he intended to steal the drugs for his own use on approximately 100 occasions over three or four months in 2014, but reconsidered about half the time.
"There were so many times when I went in and fully knew what I was doing was horrendous," Herlocker told the judge. "I fought it a number of times and did not go through with my actions. Addiction is a horrible thing." Herlocker was a nurse for 11 years before he was fired from Baystate.
Goodwin told the court investigators could not identify any patients who were necessarily harmed by the theft, as it was unclear which syringes were administered to which patients.
In a previous interview, Baystate Health spokesman Benjamin Craft said the hospital launched an immediate investigation after Herlocker admitted to the scheme. "We performed an exhaustive investigation into the possibility of patients being harmed by these actions, closely examining the records of any patient who had potential to be affected. There is no evidence whatsoever of any harm to patients or any potential future risk to patients from these actions. Since this event we have conducted additional training of every RN and pharmacy technician at Baystate Franklin to build their skills in recognizing potential tampering or misuse."
In court on Jan. 7, Herlocker said he regretted the damage he did to his career and Baystate.
"I clearly enjoyed my profession. I've helped people pass away peacefully. I've helped people survive heart attacks. I've been there when babies were born ... I violated the trust of Franklin Medical Center, my patients and my own integrity. Every day I participate in (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous). There isn't anything I want to do more than deal with these addictive tendencies. I am very, very apologetic for my actions."
Herlocker is scheduled to be sentenced on March 31. He was released on his own recognizance pending sentencing.
The U.S. Attorney's Office Springfield Branch Office was assisted by investigators with the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, New York Field Office and the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Division of Food and Drugs, Drug Control Program.