Local nurse guilty of stealing morphine from hospice patient
A nurse from Haverhill faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison after she pleaded guilty to stealing an elderly patient's morphine, according to federal court records.
Lauren Perrin, 47, is one of two local nurses charged recently by federal investigators with stealing morphine while employed at an Amesbury facility.
Perrin was charged March 12 with one count of tampering with morphine, which is widely used for pain relief in terminally ill patients.
She initially pleaded not guilty but her attorney, Mark McNally of Andover, later requested a hearing so she could "change her plea," according to court records.
On Sept. 16, Perrin filed a "plea of guilty or nolo contendre, or a verdict of guilty," according to court records.
Perrin is now scheduled for sentencing Dec. 4, according to federal court records.
She was charged with diluting an 88-year-old hospice patient's morphine down to between 19 percent and 29 percent of the prescribed dosage, according to federal court documents.
While working at the Maplewood Care and Rehabilitation Center in Amesbury, Perrin tampered with three bottles of morphine sulfate prescribed to the hospice patient, according to the federal charges.
She worked at Maplewood from March 18, 2015, until Jan. 4, 2018, according to records.
The patient Perrin cared for "was diagnosed with dementia, frequent seizures, a leg fracture and shingles, a painful viral infection,” according to court papers.
The woman was prescribed 5 milligrams of morphine sulfate to be administered three times daily, according to the records.
From Nov. 5, 2017, until Nov. 26, 2017, Perrin is accused of “tampered with three vials” of the woman’s morphine doses.
Perrin “diluted Victim (one’s) morphine sulfate by removing morphine sulfate and replacing the removed liquid with another solution,” according to a document outlining “general allegations” in the case.
“The diluted vials contained only approximately 19 percent to 29 percent of the declared concentration of morphine sulfate. Until her death on Nov. 26, 2017, Victim (one) repeatedly received doses of the diluted morphine,” the documents say.
The court documents do not specify what kind of liquid Perrin is accused of using to dilute the morphine doses.
Perrin was previously barred by a federal judge from "seeking employment in the medical field," although her nursing license remained active with the state.
She was released on a $10,000 bond with a variety of pre-trial conditions after her initial appearance at U.S. District Court in Boston.
Perrin was ordered not to consume alcohol "excessively," not to use any narcotics or controlled substances, and to undergo drug testing as directed, according to court documents.
She also must report any contact with law enforcement to federal probation immediately, surrender her passport, may not to move without permission, and may not to obtain any firearms or weapons, according to court records.
Perrin's attorney, McNally, declined comment for this story.
Brianna Duffy, 32, who also worked at Maplewood Care and Rehabilitation Center in Amesbury, was also indicted on one count of tampering with a consumer product and one count of acquiring a controlled substance by fraud or deception.
According to the indictment, on March 17 and 18, Duffy was working as registered nurse at Hunt Nursing and Rehab in Danvers. There, investigators say she tampered with morphine prescribed to an 89-year-old hospice patient.
Duffy replaced the extracted medication with another liquid, diluting it to 26% of the prescribed concentration, according to investigators.
The indictment also alleges that from December 2016 until July 2017, also stole morphine from a patient at Maplewood Care and Rehabilitation Center in Amesbury, where she was an employee.
Duffy is accused of diverting morphine from two bottles that were prescribed to a 68-year old Amesbury patient. Federal authorities alleged she diluted the remaining morphine with another liquid, leaving only 1.2% to 2.5% of the declared concentration of morphine.
Investigators say that July 18, she tested positive for morphine in her system.
Duffy is scheduled for trial in April 2020, according to federal court records.
— Jill Harmacinski
Workers at Haverhill human services agency strike for raises
About 300 employees of the human services agency Fidelity House CRC have been on strike as they seek a better contract offering higher wages and equity in pay.
The strike began on Tuesday of last week with a solidarity rally in Lawrence that included Mayor Daniel Rivera, state Rep. Marcos Devers, D-Lawrence, and Lawrence City Council President Kendrys Vasquez.
The strike continued last Wednesday with about 20 union members picketing at the agency's 22 Park Ridge Road location in Haverhill's Ward Hill Business Park and about 100 members picketing at the agency's 439 South Union St. location in Lawrence, where the agency's headquarters are located.
In January, Career Resources Corporation of Haverhill and Fidelity House of Lawrence merged to create a new organization, Fidelity House CRC. The merger created the nonprofit Fidelity House CRC, the largest provider of services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Merrimack Valley.
Brad Howell, who served as CEO of Career Resources Corporation for 13 years, was appointed president and CEO of the new organization, which is is funded primarily through contracts with the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission and MassHealth.
Daniel Hoffer, private sector coordinator for Service Employees International Union 509, said his union has been in contract negotiations with Fidelity CRC since late June, but that the talks reached an impasse. He said the strike is expected to continue until a contract agreement is reached.
"We are striking for a fair wage for all employees, and equal pay for equal work," he said.
He said the union has asked for a 3% pay raise in the first year of a new contract and 3% in the second year for all employees, as well as equity in pay for day workers who work at the agency's offices, who he said do the same work as higher-paid residential staff.
Residential union workers are employed at the agency's 26 group homes, located in Haverhill, Methuen, Andover, Salisbury, Amesbury, Lawrence and Georgetown, while union day workers are primarily employed at the Parkridge Road location in Haverhill, which provides a variety of day services and job skills training.
The union represents nearly 300 direct support professionals working in state-funded residential, day services and employment programs for people with developmental disabilities such as autism and Down syndrome, as well as clients with brain injuries.
Members of the union at Fidelity House overwhelmingly voted to authorize the strike, delivering management with the legally required 10-day notice of their intent to strike, Hoffer said.
In response to the strike, the agency is implementing contingency plans for staffing its residential programs for adults with disabilities, according to a press release issued by Howell.
"Our residential programs will be staffed by those employees who choose not to participate in the strike, management personnel and by temporary staff," Howell said.
— Mike LaBella
Shooting suspect's dangerousness hearing postponed
The dangerousness hearing for a man accused of shooting homes in Haverhill's Mount Washington neighborhood has been postponed to Oct. 23.
The hearing is designed to determine if the suspect, Brian Grande, can be released on bail or is a danger to society.
Court officials said the October hearing will be be held via video conference from the Middleton House of Correction, where Grande continues to be held.
Grande was one of three people who police arrested on the afternoon of Sept. 15 in connection with a shooting in which no one was injured, but houses were damaged at 65 and 69 Jackson Street Extension.
Police said they were called just after noontime for a report of shots fired in the neighborhood, which is in the Mount Washington section of the city.
"Both structures sustained damage after being struck by bullets," police said.
Three people were arrested and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon (a gun), possession of a loaded gun, and several other offenses.
Grande, 18, of 25 7th Ave., Haverhill, was arrested, along with Nadia Millis, 19, of Peabody, and Jose Rosado, 19, of Providence, Rhode Island.
All three were arraigned Sept. 16 in Haverhill District Court.
During those arraignments, the prosecutor said Grande threatened to kill police while they were booking him.
“I should have turned my gun and shot him in the face,” Grande told police, according to a police report.
Also according to that report, Grande’s threat was directed at the officer who arrested him just minutes after he is accused of taking part in the shooting.
The prosecutor termed the shooting “gang related.”
"This is what Gansta Disciples do,” Grande said while being booked, according to police.
At the Sept. 16 arraignments, Judge Patricia Dowling set bail on Millis and Rosado at $50,000 cash each, and noted that if they make bail, they must remain under 24-7 house arrest, with GPS tracking.
Dowling scheduled video conferences for Oct. 16 for Rosado and Millis.
As of Sept. 25, Rosado was still being held at the house of correction and Millis was still being held at MCI Framingham, according to corrections officials.
— Mike LaBella
Police use helicopter, dogs in search for driver who refused to stop
A Massachusetts State Police helicopter along with K-9 teams were searching Haverhill's Portland Street area for a man who police say refused to stop for an officer, crashed his vehicle and then ran away.
About 2 p.m. Tuesday of last week, a state trooper tried to stop a car on Auburn Street for a motor vehicle violation. When the driver refused to stop, a brief chase ensued, but was soon terminated out of concerns for the public’s safety, state police said.
Auburn Street is in the city’s Acre neighborhood.
A short time after the chase was broken off, the trooper discovered the vehicle, which had crashed on 4th Avenue, also in the Acre.
Haverhill Police Capt. Stephen Doherty said local officers were sent to the area to help state troopers. The suspect was not been captured that night, he said.
— Mike LaBella
Governor's vape ban expected to face legal challenge
Mike Portelle poured his life savings into a small vape shop in downtown Woburn after convincing his wife that the burgeoning industry was a good investment.
Business at New England Vapor was booming, he said, until media reports emerged about a mysterious vaping-related illness blamed for killing several people and sickening hundreds.
Within a matter of days, sales of vaping products plummeted more than 70%.
And now, he faces the likelihood of going out of business completely.
Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency and ordered a four-month ban on the sale of vaping products, including marijuana-based products.
Baker said the ban, the most stringent in the nation, was needed to give medical experts time to study growing concerns about the health effects of vaping.
But the move effectively shuts down hundreds of vape stores, many of them small, family-owned businesses, affecting thousands of workers statewide.
"My whole life was invested in this business," Portello said. "The bills and rent are due, and there's no money coming in. I'm going to have to file for bankruptcy and let two employees go."
The vaping industry is pushing back against Baker's directive. A legal challenge to lift the temporary ban began taking shape less than a day after the announcement.
"What the governor did was preposterous," said John Nathan, president of the New England Vapor Technology Association. "He closed 300 small businesses and conflated two separate issues that have nothing to do with these business owners."
Nathan said the trade group's national chapter has enlisted a team of lawyers who are reviewing the case in anticipation of filing a legal challenge.
"This is one of the most regressive public health policies I've ever seen enacted," he said.
Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, argues that Baker's action was government overreach and needs to be challenged in court.
"This is a shameless attempt at backdoor prohibition that will shut down businesses and send tens of thousands of ex-smokers back to deadly combustible cigarettes," he said. "These businesses and their customers will not go down without a fight."
Conley and others argue that a ban will create a multi-million dollar black market for counterfeit vaping products, which will endanger public health.
So far, only three other states — Michigan and New York and Rhode Island — have banned vaping products. But Massachusetts' temporary ban goes further than others to remove all non-tobacco flavors of e-cigarettes, as well as medical and recreational marijuana vape products, from store shelves.
On a federal level, the Trump administration is finalizing plans to ban all vape products nationwide but it's not clear when, or if, that will happen.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating an outbreak of lung illnesses and has identified more than 500 possible cases in 38 states and one territory, but it has not yet identified a common e-cigarette or ingredient. Nine deaths have been reported.
In Massachusetts, health care providers reported at least 66 possible cases as of Wednesday of last week, at least three of which are confirmed, according to the state Department of Public Health.
Vaping companies such as Juul have been criticized for getting children hooked on nicotine-laden e-cigarettes with flavors such as bubblegum, mint and mango.
But vaping companies argue that the real culprit behind the illnesses is counterfeit vaping cartridges and THC products that are being sold on the black market.
"There is zero evidence linking these illnesses to electronic cigarette products," Nathan said. "This is a black market issue."
Marie Smith, who has owned and operated the New England Vapors shop in Dracut for six years, said the ban will likely force her to close. She supports a legal challenge.
"We obviously can't survive four months without being in business," she said. "We built this business out of nothing, only to see it disappear. I'm devastated."
Overall, she worries mostly about her customers, many of them ex-smokers who were left scrambling this week to find alternative sources of vaping products.
Many were headed up to New Hampshire, where sales of vaping products are still legal.
"They don't want to go back to cigarettes," she said. "So there going to be forced to go elsewhere."
— Christian M. Wade
Gas disaster: Columbia Gas 'unprepared,' board reports
Representatives of NiSource, the parent company of Columbia Gas, said their understanding of what happened during the Merrimack Valley gas disaster "aligns" with what federal regulators said last week in the nation's capital.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the company was not prepared to handle such a disaster on Sept. 13, 2018, and had no maps of the gas system available for first responders, despite overseeing the system for 100 years. Additionally, the NTSB reported, company officials were difficult to reach as the disaster was happening and for hours afterward.
The NTSB also said plans to upgrade the cast-iron gas line system did not include upgrades to "gas sensing lines."
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said "results were not simply unacceptable. For a whole region, they were catastrophic."
"As we’ve said since that tragic day, we take responsibility for what happened," NiSource officials said in a statement released on Tuesday afternoon of last week, about two hours after the NTSB meeting in Washington ended.
“The NTSB’s work is an important step in the effort to enhance pipeline safety,'' the company's statement continued. "Our own understanding of the events generally aligns with that of the NTSB. We welcome today’s action by the NTSB because it will help us, our industry partners, the public, and others learn from this tragedy.''
“Since last September, and based on lessons learned, we have taken a series of steps to prevent something similar from happening again, which is what our customers and our communities deserve,'' the statement said. "These include installing automatic shut-off devices, accelerating implementation of a Safety Management System, or SMS, enhancing emergency preparedness, enhanced mapping, and more."
The company said it has "cooperated fully" with the NTSB.
“We have committed to our customers and our communities that we will continue to learn from what happened and implement changes to protect the public. ... We will continue to work with all stakeholders to help prevent something similar from happening again, in our system or anywhere," the NiSource statement said.
Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence was killed during the disaster. Three firefighters and 19 civilians were hurt and 50,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes.
Over-pressurization of the gas system is blamed for the disaster.
Immediately after last week'as NTSB meeting, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, said the NTSB investigation provides "two important things that Merrimack Valley residents and the Rondon family richly deserve: a thorough explanation of what went wrong, as well as concrete steps to keep a similar catastrophe from ever happening again."
"NiSource’s reckless actions and our loophole-ridden pipeline safety regulations led to death and disaster, with gas pressures reaching between 100 to 150 times higher than they should have been in that system. The NTSB final report confirms what Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and I found during our investigation – that this disaster was not inevitable, it was preventable," Markey wrote in a statement.
“No pipeline company should ever be allowed to cut corners on safety in order to cut down on costs, and no safety regulator should be allowed to look the other way when it comes to ensuring the pipelines traveling between our homes, schools, and businesses are safe," he statement said.
At Markey's request, the NTSB will come to Lawrence in early October "where they will be discussing their findings directly with those in the affected communities" of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.
Last week's NTSB meeting held in Washington was webcast and viewed by officials in the Merrimack Valley, including Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera.
"For the first time we are seeing the whole picture of disorganization and lack of attention to detail," Rivera said after the NTSB took a meeting break at 11 a.m
"It wasn't just one thing that happened,'' Rivera said. "It was a whole orchestra of failures across the project.''
Rivera said he was struck by the fact that no map of the gas delivery system was available the afternoon when the disaster erupted around 4 p.m.
"Somebody should have access to that," he said.
Feeney Brothers, the contractor working on South Union Street in Lawrence on the gas pipeline that day, is not blamed for any wrongdoing and was praised by NTSB lead investigator Roger Evans who asked to give the company a "shout-out" during the meeting.
Other matters discussed during last week's NTSB meeting:
— The gas disaster occurred as Columbia Gas had a project underway to modernize the system. The project started in 2015 but faced delays, including a shutdown in 2016 by Rivera.
— Columbia Gas had no plans to relocate "gas sensing lines" in the project plans.
— A 1977 accident in El Paso, Texas, was nearly identical to the Merrimack Valley gas disaster.
— On the day of the disaster, 184 fire departments from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine responded to the Merrimack Valley, bringing 167 fire engines, 65 ladder trucks and 54 ambulances. One thousand police officers came to the area.
— Cast iron gas lines, which are considered outdated, are located throughout the U.S. However, 19 states have phased out the use of such lines.
— Jill Harmacinski