A nurse suspected of stealing pain medications from patients inside the dialysis unit at University of Colorado Hospital was under investigation by the Oklahoma Board of Nursing at the time of her employment in Colorado, according to records reviewed by 9Wants to Know.
The records highlight a regulatory gap that allowed Kacye Unruh, 30, to still get a job in Colorado while she was under an Oklahoma Board of Nursing investigation for suspected drug theft at Oklahoma State Medical Center in Tulsa.
The Oklahoma investigation was well underway when, in June and July, federal prosecutors say Unruh swapped dilaudid and fentanyl from dialysis patients inside University of Colorado Hospital. That hospital has since advised “fewer than 50 patients” to get tested for hepatitis C out of worry of possible infection.
Unruh made her initial federal court appearance last week and will be back in court Wednesday.
According to records obtained by 9Wants to Know, Unruh was fired from Oklahoma State Medical Center on January 11 after staff suspected her of diverting, or taking, drugs from the hospital’s drug dispensing system known as a Pyxis.
In March, those records also say Unruh refused to enter the state’s Peer Assistance Program after denying “that chemicals have ever been a problem for her.”
That same month, Colorado records indicate Unruh received a license to practice nursing in Colorado.
It’s not clear when the Oklahoma Board of Nursing investigation began, but the records obtained by 9Wants to Know show investigators were looking into her case as early as March 2.
In June, as the investigation continued, the Oklahoma Board of Nursing learned Unruh was no longer at her Oklahoma address when a letter it sent to her came back marked “Return to Sender.”
That same month, Unruh was working as an RN inside University of Colorado Hospital. By June 29, federal prosecutors believe she started stealing fentanyl. Two weeks later, University of Colorado staff confronted Unruh after they believed she “had pulled medications for patient who were not on her unit,” according to Colorado state records.
On July 22, the Colorado Board of Nursing suspended Unruh’s Colorado license.
On August 10, after learning of the Colorado suspension, the Oklahoma Board of Nursing suspended Unruh’s Oklahoma license.
A spokesperson for University of Colorado Hospital told 9Wants to Know the hospital “conducts thorough background and license checks on all employees at time of hire. There were no negative or adverse records at this employee’s date of hire.”
It’s not clear why Oklahoma’s investigation of Unruh dragged on for at least six months, but confidentiality laws would prohibit that board from talking about ongoing investigations making it difficult for any prospective employer to be made aware of any potential pitfalls.
9Wants to Know highlighted this problem extensively earlier in the year with our “Hospital Highs” investigation. Last year, a Colorado nurse was able to get a job in Florida while she was actively being investigated for a massive drug theft inside a Colorado hospital.
9Wants to Know has since learned that RN was subsequently fired from two jobs in Florida after allegations of drug theft.
If you have any information on this story on any other case of suspected hospital drug diversion, write the author at Chris.firstname.lastname@example.org