Temple’s health system agreed to pay $130,000 in penalties for drug-tracking violations.
After a six-year investigation into Temple University Health System’s drug-tracking procedures by the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern Division of Pennsylvania and the Drug Enforcement Administration, a settlement agreement was reached on Oct. 27.
Comprised of Temple University Hospital, Temple Physicians Inc., Temple Transport Team and Jeanes Hospital, TUHS agreed to pay $130,000 to the federal government after two doctors were found diverting narcotics from its facilities. Additionally, TUHS has implemented a Compliance Assessment Plan related to the tracking of controlled substances.
The plan provides stricter measures for accessing medications and requires frequent counts of the facilities inventory.
“We have special drug-dispensing machines that secure the controlled drugs, and there is a very specific and detailed monitoring process that happens every day, 365 days a year,” said Sandy Gomberg, the president and interim chief executive officer for TUH.
“Any time there is a discrepancy in the amount of medicine that is supposed to be in the machine, there is a detailed investigation and action plan that happens as part of the our new policy,” Gomberg said.
According to the DEA, the Compliance Assessment Plan includes an independent consultant surveying TUHS facilities and recommending corrective changes as necessary. It also requires TUHS to report discrepancies revealed during these audits to the DEA.
The investigation began in 2004, when the then-chief resident of anesthesiology at TUH stole 107 vials of Ketamine and smaller amounts of Midazolam, Fentanyl and Morphine, according to the DEA.
“They used the drugs for their own personal purposes,” Gomberg said. “The Drug Enforcement Agency gets involved any time there is a substantial diversion of narcotics in a healthcare setting … but it had nothing to do with pharmacy practices, and there was no patient care involved.”
The drugs were a mix of general anesthetics and intravenous pain and anxiety medications – medicines that are injected directly into the vein.
“The resident doctor, who attempted to sell the drugs to an undercover DEA operative, was charged and convicted,” the DEA said.
In 2007, the DEA said, an anesthesiologist at Jeanes Hospital, “manipulated the computerized controlled substance distribution system to extract 35 vials of Fentanyl and five vials of Morphine for his own personal use.”
Although Gomberg said the two doctors were at fault for the incidents, she also recognized the organization as accountable for these drug-tracking problems.
“Our assessment plan and new policies that we’ve put into place over the last three to five years are really all designed to put more checks and balances in our process so if there ever is a problem, we can catch it sooner,” she said.
Susan Kent, a clinical assistant pharmacy professor, said drug-tracking procedures are governed by state and federal rules and regulations, but there is no standard method used to carry these out.
“There can be some variation from state to state and some procedural differences among health care institutions, like how they carry out a given rule or regulation,” Kent said.
Because TUHS has implemented this new, detailed way of monitoring drug distribution, Gomberg said she does not feel these incidents will affect the trust people have in the hospital.
“I think what garners the trust of the public is organizations being truthful when something happens and making sure that we communicate the fact that we were responsive and cooperative and took the steps necessary to improve for the future. We did all of those things, so I’m not worried about that,” Gomberg said.
“This doesn’t affect my opinion of [Temple’s program] because, in terms of how badly narcotics are controlled, it’s not something out of the ordinary,” said Gary Cheung, a junior biology major.
“Unlike small, suburban hospitals,” Cheung said, “city hospitals simply don’t have the resources and funding to keep track of all their medicine and aren’t willing to pay the massive amount [of money needed to] to digitalize their medication logistics.”
Becky Kerner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.