MINOT, N.D. — Two former Trinity Hospice nurses were each sentenced to three years in prison on Friday, July 26, for stealing or diluting drugs prescribed for dying hospice patients three years ago.
Kim Kochel, 47, and April Beckler, 40, both of whom were addicted to opioids, had stolen the drugs for their own use.
Family members of some of the victims testified Friday that the patients suffered excruciating pain because they were not receiving the pain medication that had been prescribed after Kochel or Beckler diluted it or substituted less potent medication.
One woman said she still dreams of her mother, who was dying of breast cancer in the late summer and fall of 2014 and had been prescribed hydromorphine, screaming in agony and begging not to be touched. She did not know at the time that Beckler had substituted morphine, which is eight times less potent than hydromorphine, in the woman's pain pump.
The woman's daughter was assured that her mother's pain was controlled. She only learned years later when a police officer contacted her that that hadn't been the case.
A former hospice director testified on Friday that Trinity staff estimated that as many as 106 patients could have suffered as a result of the actions of Kochel and Beckler.
Kochel and Beckler stole the drugs between December 2012 and Sept. 8, 2014. Beckler later told a former colleague that she and Kochel brought unused drugs back to their office and used them together after a patient had died and Beckler then also kept stealing from patients and using the drugs.
The state did not file charges against the women until Aug. 31, 2017, nearly three years after it had made a report to the Drug Enforcement Agency about the drug diversion. The State Board of Nursing investigated and both Kochel and Beckler gave up their nursing licenses. Kochel went through drug treatment and eventually got her nursing license back, but she voluntarily surrendered it again after she was charged in district court.
In March 2016, an investigator with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration noticed that the Sept. 6, 2014 report had not been resolved and contacted the Minot police department in January 2017. Police investigated, but no charges were filed until September 2017.
Both Kochel and Beckler apologized for their actions at the sentencing hearing and said they realize they will never be nurses again.