A former registered nurse at Ellis Hospital accused of swapping out at least one patient’s powerful painkiller with an over-the-counter drug last summer pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a 26-count indictment.
Richard E. Espey Jr., 43, appeared in Schenectady County Court and was allowed to remain free with restrictions pending the outcome of the case.
Espey is accused of falsifying hospital records on 16 separate occasions from March to July 2013. In each instance, Espey falsified the records to pocket controlled painkillers, according to prosecutor Michael DeMatteo of the Schenectady County District Attorney’s office.
Most of the incidents involved Espey ordering medication for patients for whom it was not prescribed, essentially not impacting direct patient care, DeMatteo said. On at least one occasion, though, DeMatteo said Espey switched a patient’s prescribed hydrocodone for Tylenol in July 2013, according to court papers.
DeMatteo said there is no indication Espey was taking them for any other reason than for his own use.
Espey, of Furman Street, was originally arrested in August and released under probation supervision. He was fired from his nursing position as a result of the allegations, according to his attorney, Terence Kindlon.
In court Tuesday, Gennaro Calabrese, standing in for Kindlon, indicated Espey has completed drug treatment at Conifer Park and also is undergoing counseling and random drug testing through his probation. Calabrese argued Espey should remain free under probation supervision, though prosecutor Ed Moynihan, standing in for DeMatteo, argued for bail to be set at $25,000.
Judge Richard Giardino allowed Espey to remain free, but indicated any failed drug test would lead to his being jailed. Giardino wanted to be notified within 24 hours of any positive drug test.
“Do you understand the seriousness of this, Mr. Espey?” Giardino asked earlier in the proceedings.
“Yes, your honor,” Espey responded.
Kindlon said later it is his belief the case was over-indicted. He said his client is suffering from addiction that arose out of legally prescribed medication and he has now been through rehab.
Kindlon also said his client hopes to leave the door open to be a nurse again, after showing he can lead a substance-free existence. A felony conviction would preclude that.
Espey has been a registered nurse in New York state since 2007, state records show. He continued to be listed Tuesday as registered through 2015.
Kindlon contended the state is willing to let him keep his nursing license and believes the interests of justice should result in allowing Espey some day to resume using his skills.
“Rather than smashing their lives to bits, I think the preferred response is to help them rehabilitate themselves and not let their training and talent go to waste,” Kindlon said.
Espey’s alleged scheme began to unravel in June 2013, DeMatteo said, when someone used another nurse’s log-in information to make controlled medication withdrawals in the name of a patient. Espey allegedly made three withdrawals of oxycodone that day, June 16, 2013. He is accused of taking two tablets in each withdrawal and keeping them for himself.
The investigation soon centered on Espey, DeMatteo said, and information kept on the controlled medication system, as well as video footage, led to his arrest.
An Ellis Hospital spokesman declined to comment after Espey’s arrest last August, saying it was not their policy to comment on personnel issues. Contacted Tuesday evening, the spokesman wanted to refamiliarize himself with the case before commenting.
According to the state Department of Health, Ellis Hospital first discovered criminal activity when the nurse’s ID was used and reached out to the department’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement to investigate. That investigation led to Espey’s arrest, according to a Department of Health spokesman.