As of Wednesday, Brewster’s multistate license was “under investigation” in Kentucky but otherwise unrestricted, meaning she could still work as a nurse in most of the country. It is unknown where else Brewster might have worked as a travel nurse, including in the seven months after she was first accused of tampering in Tennessee.
Brewster could not be reached for comment and it is unclear whether she has an attorney. A Knoxville lawyer listed as Brewster’s attorney in records filed with the Tennessee Board of Nursing denied representing the nurse.
One hospital that became heavily dependent on travel nurses during the pandemic was Johnson City Medical Center. Ballad Health, which owns the hospital, said last summer the pandemic increased the number of travel nurses the company employed from about 150 to 400.
Brewster was among those hired. She was employed by Jackson Nurse Professionals, a travel nurse company in Orlando, Florida, and worked at the Johnson City Medical Center for three months before the alleged tampering was discovered, according to the records.
Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine told KHN another nurse flagged a suspicious vial in the hospital’s medical cabinet, and an internal investigation linked the vial to Brewster.
“She was removing the Dilaudid and replacing it with another substance that looked clear like Dilaudid, and replacing the vials in the Omnicell system,” Levine said. “One of our other nurses noticed that something looked different in one of the vials and notified the pharmacy immediately.”
Ballad Health fired Brewster and alerted law enforcement and the Tennessee Department of Health, according to a statement from the company. It sent five Dilaudid syringes to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab, which confirmed the amount of medication within was “inconsistent with the manufacturer’s label,” according to the nursing board documents.
The hospital reported that it also tried to give Brewster a drug test. She initially provided an insufficient urine sample, the documents allege, and then after providing a second sample Brewster “accused the lab technician of being corrupt,” grabbed the sample out of his hand, and dumped it down the sink.
“This is my *** [sic],” Brewster said as she took back the sample, according to the documents.
The Tennessee Department of Health filed the professional disciplinary case against Brewster with the Board of Nursing on March 31. She is scheduled to appear Aug. 24 at a board hearing and risks losing her nursing license.
At some point, after she was fired from Johnson City Medical Center, Brewster began to work at Raleigh General, an unrelated hospital about 120 miles to the north in Beckley, West Virginia.
Last month, the hospital reported to the West Virginia nursing board that Dilaudid vials in its medicine cabinets appeared to have been tampered with, according to a board order suspending Brewster’s license. Some vials were missing tops and others had tops marked with a residue that “looked like glue,” the board alleges.
Once again, an internal investigation “led directly” to Brewster, according to the board order.
Raleigh General “disposed of many vials of Dilaudid in order to protect patients from contamination” and provided some vials to law enforcement for testing. Results have not been disclosed.
Jackson Nurse Professionals did not respond to requests for comment. It is unclear whether Brewster still works for the company.
Raleigh General Hospital in West Virginia released a statement that it was still investigating Brewster and cooperating with authorities but declined to answer questions about the case.
Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.