JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Allegations of stealing pain medication at two different hospitals in two different cities are not the only legal issues for a now-former nurse who was arrested on Friday.
News4JAX has uncovered court documents that show Desiree Lato, 41, of Jacksonville also currently has a vulnerable adult protection injunction against her. The injunction was granted back in early August and extended at the beginning of September.
According to the petition document for the injunction, Lato financially exploited a 77-year-old relative whom Lato had power of attorney over. According to the petition, back in May of this year, Lato removed more than $22,000 from the victim’s IRA account without the victim’s consent. The petition says the money was then deposited into Lato’s financial account. The petition alleges that prior to the victim’s money being taken, Lato defrauded the victim out of the deed to the victim’s property.
Adult Protective Services and Jacksonville Police were notified about the allegation when the injunction was filed. JSO is currently investigating the adult exploitation allegations against Lato.
When the petition was written, it stated that Lato was currently working at Orange Park Medical Center and was under investigation for stealing narcotics from the hospital. The petition also stated that Lato placed a bag of narcotics in the victim’s home and that law enforcement had been called to take possession of the drugs.
OPMC issued a statement Monday: “Orange Park Hospital has active safeguards in place to ensure medications are administered and accounted for properly. These safeguards led to the discovery of some discrepancies. Immediate action was taken including notifying the appropriate authorities including the DEA, local police and the Nursing Board, and we terminated the employment of the individual.”
News4JAX has learned a lot more about the investigation into Lato when she was employed at Orange Park Medical Center as an emergency room nurse.
According to court documents, A JSO narcotics detective who is also a DEA task force officer who specializes in prescription medication fraud cases was assigned to the case in Orange Park against Lato back in March of this year. Lato was identified by staff at Orange Park Medical Center as an emergency room nurse suspected of stealing medications from the Hospital’s Omni Cell machine, which is an automated medication dispensing system. The machine requires a biometric scan as well as an employer ID number before medication can be removed or returned to the machine.
A UF Health nurse, who wanted to remain anonymous, explained how prescribed medications are supposed to be removed from the machine.
“For all of them, you have to put in a fingerprint and say what medication you’re pulling out. And unfortunately, in the ER and in the ICUs, you can override a lot of that,” the nurse said.
She said the purpose of overriding the security measures is because those departments are constantly dealing with very hectic emergency situations involving patients who need immediate access to pain medication. In other non-emergency departments, a pharmacist approves what medications can be removed from the machine to be administered to patients.
“The orders get put in by the doctor. The pharmacy approves it, and it’s available for us in the Omni Cell. In the ER, because it’s a very fast-moving pace, the pharmacy cannot approve everything we need instantly. We can override and say ‘yes, I want to pull this medication.’ And that could be fentanyl. It could be dilaudid. It can be oxycodone. It can be anything,” the nurse said.
It’s also required to use documentation to show why the medication was not administered, thrown away or returned to the machine. News4JAX also learned that fingerprints on file are also linked to a nurse’s login at the beginning of their shift.
According to the arrest warrant affidavit, staff at the hospital were reviewing multiple February transactions from the machine involving Lato that raised red flags. The investigation revealed that during those multiple transactions, Lato either didn’t scan medications as being administered to a patient or she didn’t document why certain pills were removed.
Investigators said the stolen medication was Oxycodone and Morphine. Investigators also said that transactions from the Omni Cell machine were recorded on video.
The warrant affidavit states that when Orange Park Medical Center managers questioned Lato and ordered her to take a drug test by way of a urine sample, one of the nurses who witnessed the test told the pharmacy director she believed Lato faked the urine sample by having a foley bag strapped or stuck to her body. And according to the warrant affidavit, the urine sample was not a normal color.
On July 22, Lato was arrested and charged with two counts of obtaining prescription medication by fraud. But according to the arrest report, by then, her employer was UF Health in Jacksonville.
Last Tuesday, Lato was arraigned in the Orange Park case and pled not guilty- so the case is going to trial.
Three days after the arrangement, while Lato was out of jail on bond in the Orange Park case, she was arrested at UF Health where she worked in the ER. The charge was one count of obtaining prescription medicine by way of fraud.
UF Health sent the following statement Friday when News4JAX inquired about Lato’s employment:
“The individual in question is no longer employed by UF Health Jacksonville. Because this is an ongoing investigation, we ask that you contact the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for more information.”
Lato appeared in court Saturday morning after her recent arrest. The judge set Lato’s bond at $50,003 and ordered her to wear a drug patch, which a source told us is used to absorb sweat and allows authorities to check for drugs in her system.