Former UF Health nurse accused of stealing drugs from hospital is the target of three investigations

JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – Allegations of the theft of painkillers from two different hospitals in two different cities aren’t the only legal issues for a former nurse who was arrested on Friday.

News4JAX has uncovered court documents that show Desiree Lato, 41, of Jacksonville also currently has a vulnerable adult restraining order against her. The injunction was granted in early August and extended in early September.

According to the motion document for the injunction, Lato financially exploited a 77-year-old relative over whom Lato had power of attorney. According to the petition, in May of this year, Lato withdrew more than $22,000 from the victim’s IRA account without the victim’s consent. The petition says the money was then deposited into Lato’s financial account. The petition alleges that before the victim’s money was taken, Lato defrauded the victim on the victim’s property deed.

Adult Protective Services and Jacksonville Police were notified of the allegation when the restraining order was filed. JSO is currently investigating the adult exploitation allegations against Lato.

When the petition was written, it stated that Lato was currently working at the Orange Park Medical Center and was being investigated for stealing narcotics from the hospital. The petition also stated that Lato placed a bag of narcotics at the victim’s home and that law enforcement was called to take possession of the drugs.

The OPMC released a statement on Monday: “Orange Park Hospital has active safeguards in place to ensure medication is administered and accounted for correctly. These backups led to the discovery of some discrepancies. Immediate action was taken, including notifying the appropriate authorities, including the DEA, local police and board of nursing, and we terminated the individual’s employment.

RELATED: UF Health nurse arrested for second time on drug theft charges

News4JAX learned much more about the Lato investigation when she was employed at Orange Park Medical Center as an ER nurse.

According to court documents, a JSO narcotics detective, who is also a DEA task force officer specializing in prescription drug fraud cases, was assigned to the Orange Park case against Lato in March. of this year. Lato was identified by Orange Park Medical Center staff as an ER nurse suspected of stealing drugs from the hospital’s Omni Cell machine, which is an automated drug dispensing system. The machine requires a biometric scan as well as an employer identification number before medication can be withdrawn or returned to the machine.

A UF Health nurse, who wished to remain anonymous, explained how prescribed medications are supposed to be removed from the machine.

“For each of them you have to put a fingerprint and say which medicine you take out. And unfortunately in the ER and ICU you can undo a lot of that,” the nurse said.

She said the purpose of overriding safety measures is that these departments are constantly dealing with very hectic emergency situations involving patients who need immediate access to painkillers. In other non-emergency departments, a pharmacist approves medications that can be removed from the machine for administration to patients.

“The orders are placed by the doctor. The pharmacy approves it, and it’s available to us in the Omni Cell. In the ER, because it’s so fast-paced, the pharmacy can’t approve everything we need instantly. We can override it and say, “yes, I want to take this drug off.” And it could be fentanyl. It could be dilaudid. It may be oxycodone. It could be anything,” the nurse said.

It is also necessary to use documents to show why the medicine was not administered, discarded or returned to the machine. News4JAX has also learned that the fingerprints on file are also linked to a nurse’s login at the start of her shift.

According to court documents, a JSO narcotics detective, who is also a DEA task force officer specializing in prescription drug fraud cases, was assigned to the Orange Park case against Lato in March. of this year. Lato was identified by Orange Park Medical Center staff as an ER nurse suspected of stealing drugs from the hospital’s Omni Cell machine, which is an automated drug dispensing system. The machine requires a biometric scan as well as an employer identification number before medication can be withdrawn or returned to the machine.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, hospital staff were reviewing several February machine transactions involving Lato that raised red flags. The investigation revealed that during these multiple transactions, Lato did not scan the drugs as being administered to a patient or she did not document why certain pills were withdrawn.

Investigators said the drugs stolen were oxycodone and morphine. Investigators also said Omni Cell machine transactions were videotaped.

The warrant affidavit states that when officials at the Orange Park Medical Center questioned Lato and ordered him to take a drug test using a urine sample, one of the nurses who witnessed the test told the pharmacy manager that she believed Lato had faked the urine sample by having a foley bag tied or taped to her body. And according to the warrant affidavit, the urine sample was not a normal color.

On July 22, Lato was arrested and charged with two counts of fraudulently obtaining prescription drugs. But according to the arrest report, at that time his employer was UF Health in Jacksonville.

Last Tuesday, Lato was arraigned in the Orange Park case and pleaded not guilty. The case will therefore go to trial.

Three days after the arrangement, while Lato was out of bail in the Orange Park case, she was arrested at UF Health where she worked in the ER. The charge was one count of fraudulently obtaining prescription drugs.

UF Health sent the following statement Friday when News4JAX inquired about Lato’s employment:

“The individual in question is no longer employed by UF Health Jacksonville. As this is an ongoing investigation, we ask that you contact the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for further information.

Lato appeared in court on Saturday morning following his recent arrest. The judge set Lato’s bail at $50,003 and ordered him to wear a drug patch, which a source said is used to absorb sweat and allows authorities to check his system for drugs.

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