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Hudson nurse is charged in theft of drugs at center

State Health Department records show complaints have been filed against her by several hospitals.

Painkillers had a way of vanishing around nurse Judy Harding. They were going into her veins, she told police.

From hospital to hospital going back to 1996, authorities say, the 44-year-old Hudson woman left a trail of falsified reports, missing vials and patients who claimed they weren't getting the drugs Harding said she gave them.

None of that stopped her from finding work at the Bear Creek Nursing Center in Hudson for the past three months.

In July, the staff began noticing liquid painkillers were missing from emergency supplies. Working with police, the center put a surveillance camera in the locked drug room to catch the culprit.

Arrested Monday, Harding admitted she used a syringe to remove morphine and Dilaudid from several vials this month and refilled them with saline solution, according to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report.

While no harm fell to patients because of it, say sheriff's officials and the nursing home, Harding was playing a dangerous game.

If a patient got saline solution instead of the required drug during a seizure, for instance, it might have caused injury or death.

Showing a deputy needle tracks on her arm, Harding said she was using the drugs to control the pain in her legs and back.

That pain was so bad, said the nurse's husband, Kenneth Harding, that she spoke daily of killing herself to end the anguish, if only she could find the guts to do it.

"She just hurt, hurt in her back real bad," the husband told the Times on Tuesday.

"She'd try to sleep. She'd get up and holler and scream. She said she wished the Lord would take her home and take her out of her misery."

Doctors couldn't find the cause of the pain, Kenneth Harding said.

State records show Harding had no previous arrest record, but complaints were lodged with the state Health Department, the agency that regulates nurses.

In May 1998, while Harding worked at North Bay Hospital, the staff found 100 milligrams of Demerol missing and discovered Harding did not properly document administering it to patients, according to a Health Department complaint.

In October 1998, while Harding worked at Community Hospital of New Port Richey, she gave controlled substances to patients at three times the rate of any other nurse, falsely documented it and said she gave drugs to a patient who claimed she had not medicated him, another complaint said.

In the summer of 1996, while she worked at Spring Hill Regional Health Care, investigators found she signed out doses of Meperidine improperly on at least 19 occasions, wasted doses of the drug without a witness on at least two occasions, and on at least 16 occasions entered late entries for the drug.

In connection with those allegations, the Health Department suspended her license for two years in June 1998.

While the Bear Creek Nursing Center does background checks on applicants, said home administrator Hank Lovvorn, some people "slip through the cracks."

Lovvorn said he had not been aware of the previous drug complaints against Harding and said she omitted information on her application that would have pointed to her background. He said the home is investigating how she got hired.

"We're trying to figure out how that happened," he said.

Lovvorn said the home decided to report Harding's actions to the Sheriff's Office to ensure she didn't work as a nurse again.

"We had an option of keeping this to ourselves, but I didn't want this nurse going down the street and getting another job," Lovvorn said.

Harding faces six counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and single counts of trafficking in a controlled substance and tampering with a drug. She is being held at Land O'Lakes county jail on $105,000 bail.

_ Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.