Lawsuit launched against William Osler Health System after patient's file tampered with

A two month stay at the hospital has turned into a traumatic ordeal that Valerie Darrah says she can't forget, so she's suing the hospital's operating system.

Valerie Darra says she's troubled after nurse allegedly used her file to access narcotics for non-hospital use

A nurse wih the William Osler Health System was arrested and charged in March after allegedly accessing patient information to obtain narcotics. (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star)

A two month stay at Brampton Civic Hospital has turned into a traumatic ordeal that Valerie Darrah says she can't forget, so she's suing the William Osler Health System — the organization that operates the hospital.

Last June, Darrah's friend brought her to the hospital where she fainted. The 78-year-old then remembers waking up a few days later in the intensive care unit attached to machines.

"I was in ICU for a month and up in another ward for another month. I had to have a [tracheotomy]. My lungs collapsed," said Darrah. "They wanted to put me into a home and I told them I wasn't ready."

She says that experience was permanently etched in her mind when she received a letter from the William Osler Health System, stating that a nurse had accessed her information in order to obtain narcotics for non-hospital use.

The document outlines that an employee "was looking to access narcotics (Percocet)" and that the "employee involved has not worked at the organization since an internal investigation found this situation."

But Darrah says she's still upset by the whole chain of events and has launched a $1 million lawsuit against William Osler Health System and Catharina Demme, the nurse accused of using patient information to get the narcotic.

"It's very upsetting to think that someone has been looking through my file and my information. God knows what else they could do."

William Osler Health Systems told CBC Toronto it couldn't comment about the lawsuit.

But a senior official said the machines used to access patient information are "quite locked down" and something as serious as this incident has not happened before.

"A nurse needs to use their name and they need a specific password to access the unit," said Ann Ford, the chief privacy officer for William Osler Health System. "We have a number of safeguards and auditing procedures that allow us to go in on a regular basis … to view who has accessed these systems."

Since launching the suit, lawyer Michael Smitiuch says he's been contacted by more than a dozen patients who received the same letters after staying at Brampton Civic Hospital. 

"One patient was in pain because she had had surgery and they said, 'We can't give you any pain medication because you already have received it.' But that wasn't the case," said Smitiuch. 

Catharina Demme, the nurse involved in the case, has been charged with Breach of Trust and Theft Under $5,000. Her next court appearance is scheduled for June 1.