Iowa Nurse Sentenced to Federal Prison after Stealing Pain Medication from At Least 50 New Mothers at Waterloo Hospital

Department of JusticeU.S. Attorney’s OfficeNorthern District of Iowa

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEMonday, April 1, 2024

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An Iowa nurse who stole pain medication from at least 50 new mothers at a Waterloo hospital was sentenced on March 27, 2024, in federal court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Christina Eileen Olson, formerly known as Christina Eileen Hovey, age 43, of Waterloo, received the prison term after pleading guilty on October 12, 2023, to one count of acquiring a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, deception, and subterfuge, one count of adulteration and misbranding with intent to defraud and mislead, and one count of false statements relating to health care matters.

At the plea hearing, and in a plea agreement, Olson admitted that the State of Iowa granted her a nursing license in 2004. In 2017, a Waterloo hospital hired Olson to work as a nurse in its labor and delivery unit. Olson was responsible for caring for late-term pregnant women, women in active labor, and post-partum women, including women recovering from recent Caesarean section (“c-section”) surgery. Obstetricians prescribed these women Schedule II narcotics, including hydromorphone, oxycodone, and fentanyl, in order to control physical pain associated with the birthing process.

From no later than January 2022, to at least March 25, 2022, Olson used her nursing license to gain access to controlled substances in the hospital’s labor and delivery unit. Instead of administering the controlled substances to the women in pain, Olson diverted the controlled substances to herself for her own illicit drug use. Olson admitted she stole narcotics from no less than 50 victims. In order to cover up her crimes, Olson used a variety of fraudulent means, including falsely documenting that she had administered pain medication to new mothers when she had not done so. Olson also admitted to tampering with pain medication — replacing fentanyl inside a vial with saline and diverting the narcotic for her own use.

For example, on March 25, 2022, Olson was supposed to care for three new mothers and their babies during her shift from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. One of Olson’s victims, known in court documents as “Mother-1,” had given birth via c-section on March 23, 2022, in a high-risk pregnancy. In addition to caring for Mother-1, it was Olson’s responsibility to come into Mother-1’s room and document how much the baby was eating every hour, as this is important to ensure the health of a newborn. Instead of caring for Mother-1 and her baby, however, Olson never came into the room or checked on Mother-1 or her baby or administered pain medication to Mother-1 on March 25, 2023, even though Olson documented in the hospital’s records that she was administering pain medication to Mother-1. Rather, Olson diverted the pain medication to her own use.

As a result of Olson’s crimes, Mother-1 suffered “horrible and excruciating pain” on March 25, 2023. Further, because Olson had created false health care records documenting that she had administered the pain medication to Mother-1, the next nurse on shift declined to give pain medication to Mother-1 for at least 30 additional minutes in order to ensure Mother-1 was not feigning her need for narcotics. And despite repeated requests by Mother-1’s husband for formula, Mother-1’s newborn did not receive any formula until the end of Olson’s shift.

Another c-section patient, Mother-2, did not speak fluent English. Olson stole needed pain medications from Mother-2, as well. Mother-2’s husband made multiple complaints to the hospital about Mother-2’s pain to no avail.

The next day, March 26, 2023, Olson was again working first shift at the hospital. During this shift, the hospital drug tested Olson. The drug test was positive for opiates (oxycodone and hydromorphone) and marijuana. Another nurse then found an open fentanyl vial, an open ephedrine vial, and an epidural bag in another new mother’s room. The hospital’s records revealed that Olson had removed these three items under the new mother’s name despite the fact there were no such orders for her. The fentanyl vial had puncture marks on the top and bottom stopper surfaces, and laboratory results later revealed that nearly all the fentanyl in the vial had been replaced with saline.

Olson admitted that she routinely drank alcohol and used marijuana while working at the Waterloo hospital. In order to pass a drug test at the hospital, Olson injected another person’s urine into her bladder. In September 2021, after receiving reports that Olson was disappearing from her shift for extended periods of time, the hospital’s director referred Olson to an employee assistance program. On September 9, 2021, however, Olson took a leave of absence from the hospital for about three months after she was arrested for drunk driving. Olson’s blood alcohol level at the time of her arrest was no less than .274.

In July 2022, Olson entered into a settlement agreement with the Iowa Board of Nursing under which she agreed to voluntarily surrender her nursing license for one year. As a part of her plea agreement, Olson has now forfeited her nursing license to the United States.

“Ms. Hovey callously stole pain medications from over 50 new mothers, subjecting them to additional suffering during their procedures,” said United States Attorney Timothy T. Duax. “Our office is committed to protecting new mothers, and all medical patients, from such violations of trust by prosecuting health care employees who prey on their patients.”

“Patients rely on the knowledge that they will receive FDA-approved medications to manage their pain,” said Special Agent in Charge Charles Grinstead, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, Kansas City Field Office. “We will continue to pursue and bring to justice healthcare professionals who jeopardize patients’ health by interfering with their pain medications.” 

Olson was sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Chief Judge C.J. Williams. Olson was sentenced to one year and one day of imprisonment. She must also serve a three-year term of supervised release after the prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Timothy L. Vavricek and was investigated by the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Inspector General, and the Iowa Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. 

Court file information at https://ecf.iand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl. 

The case file number is 23-CR-2055.

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