Nurse accused of drug theft at 4 nursing homes in 3 counties, raising oversight questions

Credit: NYT

Credit: NYT

A local nurse is accused of stealing drugs while working at four nursing homes in three counties, a Dayton Daily News investigation found, raising questions about how someone could repeatedly be hired at different facilities after being fired for suspected drug theft.

Licensed practical nurse Deja Marie Thomas, 35, is now facing criminal charges in Clark and Montgomery counties, as well as an investigation with the Ohio Board of Nursing. She is accused of forging multiple coworkers’ signatures in order to gain access to narcotics like oxycodone and Norco.

Amid a widespread shortage of nurses, Thomas was quickly hired at area nursing homes after being reportedly terminated from other facilities — at one point through a nurse staffing agency. Records say she worked at three different places over five months last year.

The first incident cited in nursing board records is alleged to have occurred a year before the others and was reported to police, but no official action was taken by the nursing board until January 2024.

This news organization reached out to Thomas and her attorney; neither responded to requests for comment.

Allegations span 3 counties

Thomas was indicted in July in Montgomery County on forgery and drug theft charges.

The court entered a not guilty plea on her behalf and her attorney on March 13 filed a motion asking for her to receive intervention in lieu of conviction, “for the reason that Defendant’s use of drugs and/or alcohol was a factor leading to the criminal offense with which the Defendant is charged.”

In Clark County, Thomas was indicted in August on forgery and drug theft charges and arrested on a warrant in September. She pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

The Ohio Board of Nursing on Jan. 25 sent Thomas a notice that the board is considering taking actions against her LPN license. That notice references the allegations against her in Miami and Montgomery counties, but not Clark County.

Nursing board and court records allege Thomas did the following:

  • On or about March 23 and 24, 2022, while working as a nurse at Troy Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Troy, she forged a coworker’s signatures on a patient’s record in order to obtain Norco, according to the nursing board.
  • In or about February and March 2023, while working as an agency nurse for Gale Healthcare at Oak Creek Terrace Nursing and Rehabilitation, Thomas forged coworkers’ signatures on two patients’ records in order to obtain oxycodone, according to the nursing board.
  • In April, May and early June 2023, Thomas forged signatures to steal drugs at Dayspring in Clark County, according to the Clark County Common Pleas Court records.
  • On or about June 16 and 17, 2023, while working as a nurse at the Sanctuary at Wilmington Place in Dayton, she forged coworkers’ signatures on a patient’s record in order to obtain Norco, according to the nursing board.

The Dayton Daily News reached out to each of those facilities for comment.

“Our team took these allegations seriously and reported them right away, as we’re required to do. Our staff at Troy Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, as well as our colleagues throughout skilled nursing, are very compassionate caregivers and it affects us all when there are allegations of wrongdoing,” said April Steinberg, administrator at Troy Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center.

A theft of drugs taking place at Troy Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center was reported to the Troy Police Department, but court records show no charges were filed against Thomas in Miami County.

Complaints to the Ohio Nursing Board are not public record. So there is no way of knowing if that allegation was reported to the state. But there is no record of the state taking action at that time.

The Montgomery County charges are connected to the allegations from Oak Creek Terrace in Kettering. Officials from Oak Creek did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Officials with the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office say the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and Kettering police were investigating and found out she worked at Dayspring, so they involved the Clark County Sheriff’s Office in the investigation which led to the discovery of alleged thefts there.

“Dayspring is committed to the safety, security, and well-being of its residents. Due to resident privacy concerns, we are unable to comment on any specifics relating to this incident. What we can say is that Ms. Thomas no longer works at Dayspring and that we reported this incident immediately to the relevant authorities and continue to work with them. The health, safety, and security of our residents has always been and remains our number one priority,” officials from Dayspring said in a statement.

Investigative records say Thomas is suspected of forging signatures of other nurses for drugs she was falsely reporting were administered or disposed of, and was terminated from Dayspring, according to the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office.

After Dayspring, Thomas allegedly repeated this behavior at Wilmington Place. Officials there did not respond to requests for comment.

Thomas has no prior discipline from the Ohio Board of Nursing. It is unknown when and how the complaints against Thomas were made to the board. All information gathered by the Ohio Board of Nursing, including the original complaint, is confidential and cannot be shared outside of the board, a representative of the board said.

Allegations against a licensee are not public, so they would likely not show up on a background check, with the exception of the criminal charges against Thomas. However, an employer could ask a potential employee if they are aware of a pending investigation during the application/interview process.

Staffing agencies

While the staffing agency for Thomas decided to terminate Thomas’ employment after these allegations surfaced ― and was only involved in one of the alleged incidents ― a local ombudsman has seen issues with facilities using staffing agencies.

“I don’t think that nursing homes take the time to vet agency staff, which is really one of the downsides of agency staffing,” said Chip Wilkins, a local ombudsman, which is someone who advocates for residents in long-term care facilities.

“As ombudsmen, in facilities every day we see the negative impact a lot of time of facilities who overuse staffing agencies,” Wilkins said.

Traditional hiring practices were used with the staffing agency, agency officials said.

“Consistent with our hiring process, this clinician had a drug test and background check prior to hire. These screening actions showed no issues,” said Sandra Germann, vice president of corporate affairs at Gale Healthcare Solutions, the health care staffing agency involved in one of these instances.

Gale Healthcare suspended Thomas when hearing about the concerns, Germann said.

“When the facility contacted us about their concern, we immediately suspended the clinician and cooperated with the facility and local authorities to investigate the allegation. While the charge is still under investigation, in the interest of patient safety, we made the decision to terminate the clinician,” Germann said.

Due to there being no regulatory body for health care staffing agencies, nursing homes are responsible for the nurses staffed with them through health care staffing agencies.

If an employee violates state regulations, it is the nursing home and not the staffing agency that will get cited.

Facilities represented by the Ohio Health Care Association have had issues with some health care staffing agencies not conducting background checks, said Pete Van Runkle, executive director at the Ohio Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities throughout the state.

After the Ohio Health Care Association heard about an unnamed agency sending people without background checks being done, they advised members to make sure that’s a requirement in the contract and to make sure that rule is also being followed.

“In other words, spot check that from time to time just to make sure because it’s ultimately on the facility. The facility is responsible for the quality, or lack thereof, of their staff, and if they do things that are wrong, or when they’re not properly qualified, the facility is the one that’s going to get cited because they’re the regulated party. The agency isn’t regulated,” Van Runkle said.

Nurses and nursing homes are regulated, and records say two of them hired Thomas after she was fired from multiple agencies and reported to police. A check of Ohio’s nurse license lookup website on Friday shows Thomas’ license remains active and says only some sort of board action is “pending.”

This news organization obtained the specific allegations against Thomas the nursing board is reviewing by using Ohio public records laws.