Fla. flight nurse suspended after discrepancies seen in air ambulance’s controlled substance logs

As the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office investigates, Monroe County Fire Chief Steve Hudson said Trauma Star's service would not be harmed


David Goodhue
Miami Herald

MONROE COUNTY, Fla. — The chief flight nurse for the Florida Keys Trauma Star helicopter was suspended following “discrepancies” found in the air ambulance’s controlled substance logs, Monroe County announced Tuesday.

Lynda Rusinowski, 56, has worked for the county since February 2017, a county spokesman told the Miami Herald/FLKeysNews.com.

Lynda Rusinowski, chief flight nurse for the Florida Keys Trauma Star, has worked for the county since 2017.
Lynda Rusinowski, chief flight nurse for the Florida Keys Trauma Star, has worked for the county since 2017. (Photo/Monroe County Fire Rescue)

The county’s fire chief said the issue has not affected service.

“The risk was identified and isolated without any disruption of service to our community or the Trauma Star operation,” Monroe County Fire Chief Steve Hudson said in a statement. “We took swift action and do not condone any misconduct from our employees. Trauma Star will continue to provide our community the highest quality of service.”

Rusinowski could not immediately be reached for comment by telephone or email.

Monroe County spokeswoman Kristen Livengood said Rusinowski, whose annual salary is $76,907.90, is using her personal leave benefits during her suspension while the fire department investigates.

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office is also conducting a criminal investigation, agency spokesman Adam Linhardt said.

The fire department and sheriff’s office declined to comment on details of the case, or whether it focused on missing drugs, as sources have told the Miami Herald.

The county issued a news release saying the fire-rescue department received an anonymous tip last week “and took immediate action upon discovering documentation discrepancies in the Trauma Star controlled substance logs.”

“The prompt investigation resulted in the immediate removal of an employee from duty,” the statement reads.

The statement also says fire-rescue “immediately implemented improvements to the documentation process for a more secure controlled substance tracking module.”

According to Florida Department of Health records, Rusinowski’s medical career began as a registered nurse in 1990. She is also an advanced practice registered nurse, and she received both emergency medical technician and paramedic certification in 2013.

Her record shows no disciplinary actions.

This is not the first time there have been issues with Trauma Star’s controlled substance logs.

In October 2013, the fire-rescue department discovered vials of morphine and an intravenous anesthetic called Etomidate were missing from the drug storage room in the helicopter’s hangar.

Similarly, an investigation into discrepancies found in the controlled substance logs led to the discovery that the drugs were missing. A flight medic in charge of the log when the drugs disappeared was suspended without pay as a result.

In 2010, an EMT captain assigned to Trauma Star removed unspecified medical supplies from the hangar to administer medical aid to a local volunteer firefighter at his home.

Both instances were made public after a series of stories by the Miami Herald/FLKeysnews.com into the missing drugs and removed supplies.

The county’s Trauma Star program began with one helicopter in 2002, and has since grown to three choppers.

In a county as remote as Monroe’s, with limited trauma capabilities at the Keys’ three hospitals, the program is vital in getting the severely injured and sick to Miami-Dade County hospitals that have more advanced services.

It’s a partnership between Monroe County’s fire-rescue department and the sheriff’s office. Pilots are sheriff’s office employees, and the flight nurses and medics are fire-rescue staff, Linhardt said.

The sheriff’s office calls Trauma Star “one of the busiest air ambulance services in the country.”

Last year, the helicopters conducted 1,386 flights and transported 1,458 patients, Linhardt said. By comparison, he said — citing Federal Aviation Administration and Association of Air Medical Services data — the national average for similar programs is 264 patients a year.

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©2022 Miami Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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