State Drug Testing Proposal Hits Snag

Article excerpt

Robert Birnbrauer can't understand why medical professionals in Pennsylvania hospitals aren't randomly tested for drug use.

Each year, hundreds of the state's doctors, nurses and other medical professionals step over the line and become drug abusers, said Birnbrauer, vice president of human resources for the Temple University Health System in Philadelphia.

"There are some professions that really require oversight in some way, and health care is one of them," Birnbrauer said. "If other groups (such as those involving transportation) in the state require testing, why not here?"

But Birnbrauer recently lost another round in his battle for random testing when the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board ruled against his health system for the second time, stating that Temple must include possible testing in contract talks before implementing the practice with union workers.

Temple officials have not decided whether to appeal the ruling.

In recent months, six Western Pennsylvania health care workers were charged with drug offenses:

Frank C. Glomb, 33, of Washington Township, Westmoreland County, allegedly diverted morphine, Demerol and other pain prescription drugs from the Mercy Jeannette Hospital pharmacy, according to the state Attorney General's Office. Investigators allege Glomb cut open boxes of pain medicine, removed some of the drugs, then replaced the missing liquid with saline solution.

Carrie Watkins, 30, of McMurray, Washington County, was charged with taking the pain medications morphine sulfate and Dilaudid from Monongahela Valley Hospital early last year.

Both Glomb and Watkins face trials.

Three care providers in Armstrong County -- Stacy Ann Miller of Petrolia, Michelle R. Bonner, formerly of Kittanning, and Lisa Marie Drum, of Dayton -- were accused of illegally ordering or obtaining pain-relieving medications and other prescription drugs for themselves and family members' use.

Drum, a registered nurse, was placed in a rehabilitation program. Bonner, a licensed practical nurse, pleaded guilty and is to be sentenced next month. Miller, a registered nurse, will stand trial later this year.

Dr. Antoine Francis Cawog, 62, of Unity, a physician at Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg, was charged last month with selling prescriptions for pain medications and other drugs to a confidential informant. Investigators said some transactions occurred in the hospital. Cawog was charged by the state Attorney General's Office with dispensing prescriptions without giving proper examinations.

'Reasonable suspicion'

Most hospitals do pre-employment drug testing. Many will test employees suspected of having drug problems. But few, if any, do random testing, according to the Pennsylvania Hospital Association.

Officials of Westmoreland County's Excela Health System require pre-employment testing and will test if an employee displays suspicious behavior, said Laurie English, Excela's director of human resources and shared services. …