By MELINDA WILLIAMS
A former surgery nurse at LewisGale Hospital-Pulaski pleaded guilty Thursday to obtaining and using drugs by fraud, but the charges will be dismissed in a couple of years if she successfully completes a probationary term.
Four of the charges against Stephanie Nicole Cressell, 30, of Dublin were dismissed at the prosecution’s request because the drugs involved were determined to be something other than Fentanyl, for which she was charged.
Under a plea agreement, sentencing was deferred on one of the charges and the remaining 64 charges were continued without a finding until Cressell completes two years of supervised probation.
Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Marcus Long Jr. told Cressell that the charges will be dismissed Jan. 21, 2016 if she abides by conditions of probation. “You’ll be found guilty if you don’t comply,” he warned.
As required by Virginia law, Cressell’s driver’s license will be suspended for six months. However, Judge Long agreed to issue her a restricted license to drive to and from work, to and from required substance abuse or other treatment programs and under other specific circumstances. He told Cressell not to drive outside of the restrictions, warning, “You can blow this whole thing” by doing so.
According to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Skip Schwab, Cressell was working as a charge nurse in the operating room at the local hospital when she took Fentanyl for her personal use by forging or altering records.
For an example, Schwab explained that Cressell would increase the amount of Fentanyl the doctor had ordered for a patient so that she could take the extra doses herself. In some cases she added Fentanyl to a patient’s medication when it was not prescribed and then she took it.
When hospital officials noticed the discrepancies and confronted Cressell, she admitted to taking the medication and using it.
In December, the Virginia Board of Nursing reprimanded Cressell, according to a Consent order in the Board’s public records. In August, she signed a Recovery Monitoring Contract with the Health Practitioners’ Monitoring Program (HPMP) that will enable her to keep her license as long as she completes requirements of the program.
Successful completion of HPMP also is a condition of Cressell’s court-ordered probation.
Any violation of HPMP “shall be reason for revoking” the nurse’s license, states the Consent Order. Her ability to practice nursing outside of the Commonwealth is suspended as long as the Order is active.
Defense attorney Mike Barbour pointed out to Judge Long that it was determined Cressell’s actions had “no consequences to patients.” He explained that she was not depriving patients of their medications because the Fentanyl she took was extra medication she added to orders so she could take it for personal use.
He said Cressell, who was “born and raised here, cooperated fully with the investigation and has never been in trouble before. She has undergone “extraordinary rehabilitation,” since her actions were discovered, he added.
The HPMP program requires her to undergo drug testing, according to Barbour.
According to National Institute on Drug Abuse, Fentanyl is a “powerful synthetic opiate … similar, but more potent than morphine,” that is used to manage severe pain or treat chronic pain in people who are tolerant to opiates.
Cressell could receive a maximum of five years in prison if she fails to complete terms of probation.