Nurse fined $10k after stealing cash from elderly patients
A nurse who worked at a public hospital in northern NSW has been fined and temporarily banned from the medical profession after pleading guilty to stealing cash and credit cards from elderly patients.
Alena Tatatau Cecil was issued the order by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Friday after she was convicted of 10 counts of fraud and two counts of larceny in Tweeds Head Local Court in September 2018.
The court heard Ms Cecil worked as a registered nurse at The Tweed Hospital when she stole a patient's wallet containing the only photos of his wife who had died from his room and used his credit cards to buy items including petrol and cigarettes.
The court heard Ms Cecil was also seen by another patient rifling through a bedside drawer in her room in early 2018.
Ms Cecil stole approximately $200 in cash from both patients in what the court found was an "abuse of position of trust" towards patients who were vulnerable due to their age and medical conditions.
On Friday, the tribunal found Ms Cecil breached medical code of conduct standards by failing to notify the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency of her convictions within the seven-day reporting requirement.
Ms Cecil said she was unaware of the seven-day obligation, and in her submissions said her behaviour was uncharacteristic and that she suffered mental health conditions at the time of the offences.
Through her lawyers, she said she accepted her conduct "was unethical, wrong, and illegal" and that she acknowledged she deprived the male patient of the only remaining photographs of his deceased wife.
The court heard she was motivated by financial gain, and that transactions charged to the stolen credit cards were mostly spent on fuel, groceries, party supplies and cigarettes.
The tribunal said Ms Cecil breached the patient-nursing relationship and on Friday found her guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct.
"The relationship of a nurse to their patient and their profession is one which touches on matters such as diligence and professionalism, ethical practice, care and judgement. Ms Cecil disregarded such matters," the tribunal said.
"Her behaviour was particularly offensive in that she was dealing with vulnerable patients who were elderly and lonely without any significant support structure."
Ms Cecil was banned from working or reapplying to work as a nurse for two years and was also fined $10,000.
Ms Cecil had worked at The Tweed Hospital since 2011 and was previously employed as a nursing assisting for seven years.
In August 2019, her employment was terminated at The Tweed Hospital by the Northern NSW Local Health District.