Whistleblower Nurse Says Colleagues Kept Patients Quiet With Benadryl

Marcia Frellick

October 11, 2019

A nurse at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, New Jersey, has filed a lawsuit alleging that she was retaliated against when she reported to supervisors in March that colleagues were administering Benadryl to patients inappropriately to keep them quiet and to lighten the night-shift workload.

According to the lawsuit, filed against Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) Barnabas Health and Monmouth Medical Center and individual supervisors, Patricia Moran, a registered nurse for 31 years with RWJ on the adult involuntary psychiatric unit, "reported that several nurses on her floor knowingly misused and administered 'Benadryl' not for its intended uses, but instead to make a patient drowsy or fall asleep."

She also alleges that the nurses then falsified medical records to hide the administration of the drug.

After she reported the alleged incidents, she "was denied time on the schedule, she was provided a bogus evaluation, she was subjected to increased scrutiny, and she was otherwise ostracized from her co-workers," according to the suit filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Monmouth County.

Moran also states that after she reported the Benadryl incidents, she was immediately "floated" to the medical center's pediatric psychiatric unit, where she was asked to complete a pediatric admission.

But Moran alleges that because she had never completed that task in her career she told the charge nurse she lacked training in handling a pediatric admission and the charge nurse gave her another assignment for the day.

When her direct manager learned of the incident, Moran says, "she falsely accused [Moran] of refusing an assignment and committing a terminable offense."

Moran was suspended for 14 weeks without pay and has been issued a final warning, according to the suit.

Not Documented?

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, states that Moran began to suspect that the Benadryl was being administered inappropriately by several overnight nurses and that its use was not being documented in patients' charts.

A Pyxis machine, which dispenses and tracks hospital medications, automatically generates a report whenever Benadryl is used to treat side effects. But Moran confirmed with the hospital's administrative director of psychiatry that the reports of Benadryl being dispensed had not been submitted. The administrator then talked with Moran's supervisor, who also supervised the nurses suspected of giving the Benadryl.

Monmouth Medical Center did not reply to Medscape Medical News' request for comment, but in an email said, "Monmouth Medical Center is fully committed to providing a safe environment for our patients, visitors and staff. Per our policy, we are unable to comment on any individual employee or patient matter."

Moran's lawyer, Matthew A. Luber, with McOmber & McOmber, did not respond to Medscape Medical News by publication time, but he commented on the firm's website, "As alleged in the complaint, the hospital turned its back on Ms. Moran and immediately retaliated in an egregious fashion, all because she exposed illicit conduct and sought to uphold the highest standard of care for patients. No employee deserves to be treated in such a manner, let alone someone who has dedicated more than 31 years at this particular hospital."

The suit was brought under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act.

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