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Did nurse take patients' painkillers?

Deputies arrest a registered nurse after he's found incoherent, his elderly patients lacking drugs.

Published December 3, 2005

Fredrick Winfield, 33, has worked at Countryside Healthcare in Palm Harbor about a year.

PALM HARBOR - By the end of his nursing shift at Countryside Healthcare Center, Fredrick Winfield was slurring his words.

Co-workers said he was too incoherent to explain the rubber band around his arm.

Or the syringe in his pocket.

Or why two of his elderly patients had not gotten their prescriptions.

During his overnight shift Thursday, the 33-year-old registered nurse ate the narcotic gel off two pain patches intended for an 80-year-old burn victim and a 63-year-old woman with muscular dystrophy.

He replaced the patches with placebos, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

One of the narcotics was fentanyl, an addictive drug 80 times more powerful than morphine.

Authorities were called to the nursing home by risk management supervisor Mary Nielsen, who thought Winfield was overdosing.

Paramedics concluded that Winfield had not overdosed but had ingested an unknown mixture of drugs that put him in a stupor.

He was arrested at the Palm Harbor facility Thursday morning and charged with two counts of petty theft and exploitation of the elderly. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison, said Sgt. Jim Bordner, sheriff's spokesman.

Winfield told deputies that he had smoked marijuana, ingested patients' medicines and stolen vials of controlled substances from the facility.

While Bordner could not say whether Winfield's thefts posed a threat to patients' safety, he said the case had been referred to the state elderly abuse hotline.

Deputies also discovered a bag of urine taped to Winfield's stomach, which he used to pass the random drug tests at Countryside Healthcare, Bordner said.

Countryside Healthcare's administrator, Stella Pappas, declined to comment on Winfield's arrest Friday afternoon.

Pappas also refused to say anything about the 120-bed nursing home or its drug-testing procedures, referring a Times reporter to a weathered sign posted beside the front door.

It read: "All of our employees are subject to periodic drug and alcohol testing."

Winfield had worked at Countryside Healthcare for about a year, according to his stepfather, Jim Watson.

"He's just an ordinary guy as far as I know. It was out of the blue," Watson said.

Watson said he and his wife live in the same Palm Harbor home as Winfield and his son. He said he did not know anything about Winfield's drug use or notice any unusual behavior.

"I don't know anything. We just got a phone call this morning and he said he'd been arrested," Watson said.

Winfield has a current nursing license that indicates no previous disciplinary action, state records show.

He previously held licenses as an emergency medical technician and a paramedic. Those licenses also show no disciplinary action and have since expired.

Pinellas County records show Winfield was arrested in February on suspicion of child abuse after sheriff's deputies received a call from the state child abuse hotline.

The state attorney's office dropped the charges in April.

Times researchers Caryn Baird and Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.

[Last modified December 3, 2005, 06:18:09]

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