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The Yale Fertility Clinic Horror

Dear Colleague,

Today’s video relates back to an incident that occurred at a Yale Fertility Clinic in 2020, so it’s old news, but ongoing litigation keeps this matter alive for now. The facts are straightforward. A nurse at a Fertility clinic extracted fentanyl, which was supposed to be used as a sedative for women undergoing procedures, and replaced it with saline, over a five-month period. She extracted and stole the fentanyl for her own personal use. In essence, women who thought they would be sedated for egg retrievals were subjected to agonizing pain. 

Most of what is written about this issue, and there’s a podcast too, is about women in pain being dismissed or ignored to explain how this continued for months. But even though this occurred at the height of the pandemic, it’s difficult to understand how other clinic staff did not pick up on this faster.

The lesson is that when something in the medical world we experience seems radically awry, we need to speak up, advocate effectively, and persist. We can be too passive. 

The other extremely surprising aspect of this case is that the nurse in question received such leniency. Before she was sentenced, newspaper accounts indicated that a maximum ten-year sentence could be imposed. Most would agree a multi-year sentence is probably not productive for someone who needs drug treatment but I was very surprised to see the nurse served four weekends in prison, several months of home confinement, and three years of supervised release.

Of course, Yale University agreed to a hefty fine, reportedly $308,000, and hopefully, this incident resulted in improved security for controlled substances. The nurse in question had to surrender her license. But this was a premeditated crime committed again and again including many victims who suffered and are in a fragile state already given the procedures they undergo.

We tend to give healthcare professionals the benefit of the doubt. Their jobs are difficult and challenging and most are very committed. But this sad story reminds us there are bad actors and this “slap on the hand” punishment hardly seems a proper deterrent. 

Please commit to being vigilant and speak up if you find yourself in a medical situation that plays out in such an unexpected and unpleasant way.  This should never have happened but that it continued for five months is hard to fathom.