An Edmonton paramedic has been found guilty of stealing narcotics from Alberta Health Services (AHS) facilities, while a second member is awaiting trial on similar allegations of theft from the provincial health authority.
Courtney Kossatz, 25, and Brandon Merryweather, 35, were charged following an investigation into the theft of narcotics from EMS stations between July and September 2021.
Kossatz was charged with identity fraud, theft under $5,000 and breaking and entering with intent. She was granted a conditional discharge in Edmonton provincial court last September.
In a statement Thursday, AHS condemned the theft of narcotics detailed in the case and says the paramedics were removed from duty after the drugs were discovered missing during a regular audit of its pharmaceutical supply.
A conditional discharge means there is a finding of guilt but if Kossatz abides by court-ordered conditions of her 24-month probationary period, an absolute discharge will be granted and conviction will not be registered on her record.
Documents detail how she stole narcotics from secured storage lockers used to guard controlled substances used by first responders when medicating patients.
Kossatz faced a disciplinary hearing on Jan. 17 with the Alberta College of Paramedics, the provincial regulator for paramedics.
No decision has yet been issued on whether her actions constitute unprofessional conduct, or how she may be disciplined by the regulator.
Kossatz’s practice permit is suspended, meaning she can not work as a paramedic in the province.
Merryweather is awaiting trial on two charges.
He is charged with theft over $5,000 accused of stealing narcotics from an AHS property in a one-month period in 2021. He is also accused of fraud over $5,000 relating to the theft of narcotics from AHS.
As of Thursday, Merryweather’s profile on the college website indicates he was “directed to cease practicing” but his registration with the provincial regulator remained active.
Merryweather is due for trial at Edmonton provincial court in June. Through his lawyer, he declined to comment on the allegations.
In a statement Thursday, AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said the authority is aware of the criminal charges laid and “absolutely does not condone” any of the illegal activities alleged.
EMS has rigorous protocols for the tracing of pharmaceuticals and particularly narcotics, Williamson said.
EMS uses automated machines to dispense controlled substances and all transactions are recorded and tied directly to the paramedic making the transaction, he said.
“Regular audits are conducted, and these identify potential misuse, as happened in this case. If an employee fraudulently uses the codes of other employees, this would also be identified in an audit,” Williamson said in the statement.
All EMS employees must pass an enhanced vulnerable person record check including a criminal background check for employment, and an annual declaration is also required.”
AHS said the two paramedics were removed from duty following an investigation but declined to comment further, citing privacy legislation.
Narcotic pouches stolen
According to court records, Kossatz stole narcotics from an AHS facility in a one-month period in 2021.
She was also found guilty of theft from the Pylypow Station, an incident that happened on Sept. 28, 2021. According to the charges, Kozzatz impersonated someone else to gain access to narcotics at the southeast EMS station in Edmonton.
According to the hearing tribunal document, Kossatz, while on a medical leave of absence, took a dozen pouches of narcotics from two Edmonton EMS stations, 11 from Plyypow and one from the Kildare station.
Kossatz “falsely stated” that EMS crews needed access to the controlled substance lockers, “falsely requested” that protective services disable the alarms, and asked officers to ignore any alarms equipped to protect the drugs in storage, the document says.
She went to work in uniform, equipped with a drug pouch and radio, and provided false patient event numbers, the document states.
Kossatz also “witnessed the improper removal” of fentanyl and morphine from a Pyxis machine, the document states.
The document states that during the same period, she witnessed the opioids being improperly taken from the machine 29 separate times. The document doesn’t say who removed the narcotics.
Pyxis machines are designed to provide secure storage for controlled substances and include electronic tracking for medications dispensed.
In a statement, the college declined to answer questions about its investigation, how the theft was uncovered or the professional relationship between the two paramedics.
The college also declined to say whether it tracks similar cases within its ranks.
“The hearing for Courtney Kossatz has concluded and the hearing decision will be posted on the college website once it is finalized,” the college said in a statement to CBC News.
“The college cannot comment on the personal information of our members or investigations.”
The Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the union representing paramedics in Alberta, declined to comment.
Peter Andes, an assistant lecturer at the University of Alberta who studies health-care ethics, said the case represents a concerning breach of trust that threatens to erode public trust in paramedics.
First responders are in a position of power and must be held to a higher standard and must abide the “do no harm” principle, he said.
“When you’re put in a position where you have access to this sort of thing, you are trusted … to not take advantage of your position,” he said.
Andes said it will be critical for the college to communicate the details of the case to the public.
Transparency is key, he said, in ensuring that public confidence in the health-care system is maintained.
“People are vulnerable when they use the health-care system and they put a lot of trust in healthcare workers to take care of them in their time of need … it’s a huge issue.”
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