PUYALLUP, Wash. – An emergency room nurse suspected of stealing narcotics and exposing patients to Hepatitis C at Puyallup’s Good Samaritan Hospital was arrested Thursday night as she tried to cross the border into Canada, police said.
Puyallup Police Capt. Ryan Portmann said investigators don’t necessarily believe the nurse, identified as Cora Weberg, was trying to escape prosecution by leaving the country – since she had a return ticket. But her attempt to leave the country is what triggered her arrest.
Weberg was later booked into the Pierce County Jail for investigation of second-degree assault. No bail has been set.
But her attorney Bryan Hershman says authorities “don’t have a case against her” and says that she was already dealing with trauma of working in a high-stress emergency room.
“Now she’s sitting up in the jail house in a suicide smock in a case that has very tenuous facts,” he said.
At least two patients at Good Samaritan Hospital were infected with Hepatitis C, and hospital officials say they believe Weberg was using a portion of patients’ narcotics for her own use, and then injecting those patients with the same needle.
The nurse, who also has Hepatitis C, was identified after an investigation found that she was removing higher-than-normal amounts of narcotics from the emergency department’s dispensing system. Weberg then admitted to stealing medications intended for patients, hospital officials said.
The hospital is now testing 2,600 former patients who received injections of narcotic, antihistamines or sedatives at the emergency department while the nurse was on duty between August 4, 2017, and March 23, 2018.
Not all of those patients were treated by the infected nurse, but they are all being strongly urged to get free testing for Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B and HIV in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.
Nigel Turner, communicable disease director at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, said at a Friday news conference that some of those 2,600 patients have tested positive for Hepatitis C antibodies. But he added that more testing and investigation is needed to confirm the infection and also to determine whether Weberg was the source.
“We need to keep an open mind and rule out any other possibilities,” he said.
Capt. Portmann said police and health officials had hoped to investigate further before deciding whether to arrest or charge Weberg, but her attempt to leave the United States forced their hand.
He said police received a tip that she was about to leave the country on a trip that would take her to Vancouver, B.C., and then on to China and Guam before returning to the U.S. He said it’s believed that the trip was planned before she was suspected of stealing narcotics and infecting patients.
In addition, Portmann said that Weberg may face additional charges for theft or illegal possession of narcotics as the investigation proceeds.
Weberg no longer works for Good Samaritan Hospital. She apparently was unaware that she had Hepatitis C while she was employed at the facility.
Weberg’s mother said her daughter denies the accusations.
” We try to tell her not to worry that we know who she is and most important she knows who she is and so that’s all that really should matter,” Eunice Weberg said. “But that hasn’t stopped the pain and the agony.”