ALBANY, NEW YORK – Nathan Baum, age 31, of East Greenbush, New York, was sentenced today to serve 82 months in prison after admitting to stealing pain medication intended for hospice patients.
The announcement was made by United States Attorney Richard S. Hartunian; Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey G. Hughes of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, Northeast Field Office; and Acting Special Agent in Charge Russell J. Hermann of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations, New York Field Office.
Senior United States District Judge Lawrence E. Kahn also imposed a three-year term of supervised release, to begin after Baum’s release from prison, and a $2,000 fine.
Baum pled guilty in February to tampering with a consumer product and obtaining controlled substances by deception and subterfuge. Baum, a licensed practical nurse who worked at the hospice ward of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in Albany, improperly accessed syringes that contained oxycodone hydrochloride. These syringes were stored in locked containers that Baum was able to access using his individually assigned password. Between April 8, 2014 and May 16, 2014, Baum removed the oxycodone hydrochloride from at least 25 syringes and replaced it with haloperidol.
Oxycodone hydrochloride, a Schedule II controlled substance, is a highly addictive narcotic analgesic used to treat moderate to severe pain. Haloperidol, often marketed as Haldol, is an anti-psychotic medication used to treat certain mental/mood disorders and to treat uncontrolled movements or agitation.
Family members of some of the hospice patients attended today’s sentencing, and several gave statements detailing the pain and suffering that Baum inflicted on dying hospice patients and their families.
U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian stated: “The victims in this case were military veterans, including veterans of World War II and the Korean War. They fought for and served our country, and eventually became hospice patients who trusted Nathan Baum to give them the medication they needed in the final moments of their lives. Baum violated that trust by stealing their medication and replacing it with anti-psychotic medicine that would not have eased his patients’ pain. This was a terrible crime, and Baum has received a sentence reflecting his betrayal of the nursing profession and the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
Jeffrey G. Hughes, Special Agent in Charge of the VA Office of Inspector General’s Northeast Field Office, said: “The VA OIG is committed to pursuing those who would do harm to our deserving veterans and bringing those individuals to justice. We will continue to diligently pursue fraud, waste and abuse in every form as it so negatively affects our nation’s heroes. We would also like to commend the Stratton VA Medical Center for its prompt actions and notification to our office.”
Russell J. Hermann, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations’ New York Field Office, said: “Our office will continue to pursue those who prey on our most vulnerable patients, those in hospice, by removing their needed medications. We will continue our efforts to protect the public health and bring to justice those would compromise patients’ health and comfort in this manner.”
Baum’s tampering was discovered in late May 2014, when his supervisor noticed that he was slurring his speech and his pupils were pinpoint – signs of controlled substance abuse. When federal agents inspected the locked container Baum was allowed to access, they found that three sets of oxycodone hydrochloride syringes had been tampered with. Baum admitted to agents that he was addicted to painkillers; that he used oxycodone hydrochloride that was intended for veterans; and that he replaced the oxycodone hydrochloride in some syringes with Haldol.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General and the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations, and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth R. Rabe.