Felon illegally worked as nurse

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BROOKSVILLE – A convicted felon worked as a registered nurse at Springbrook Hospital for more than one year before authorities discovered his background and hospital officials fired him in September.

An administrative complaint shows Gary Carl Cooper, 52, of Trails End Road, pleaded guilty in Hernando County in February 2010 to three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, violating a domestic violence injunction and violating conditions of his pretrial release.

Cooper was hired by the mental health, substance abuse and inpatient psychiatric service hospital five months after his release from prison for the third-degree felony convictions.

Hospital officials said Cooper was hired as a registered nurse in July 2012. A person in that position cares for patients, dispenses medications and writes reports.

Cooper’s was dismissed in September after medical industry regulators told Springbrook officials the nurse was working illegally, said Hospital Administrator John Sannuto. Florida’s Department of Health had suspended Cooper’s nursing license about one year ago – for the assault charges and for failing to inform the department in writing within 30 days of his arrest.

The administrative complaint states Cooper immediately should have notified his employer in writing and sent a copy of the letter to the Department of Health.

The complaint goes on to say Cooper’s license will be suspended until he appears before the state’s Board of Nursing, demonstrates an ability to engage in safe nursing practices and undergoes an in-depth psychological evaluation.

“As a hospital you do your background checks, and sometimes people fall through the cracks, and sometimes it’s not until a regulatory agency calls you, and with this gentleman we got word of what he was doing,” Sannuto said. “We can’t have anybody working here with a felony. That’s against the law.”

Florida Department of Corrections records show Cooper served a two-year sentence, from February 2010 until February 2012, for the three counts of aggravated assault with a weapon.

Court records show the offense occurred in 2009, and Cooper initially was charged with five counts of aggravated assault with a weapon before two of the charges were dropped.

According to an arrest affidavit, Cooper and his then-wife were divorcing when he showed up at the home of one of her family members.

The report says the couple began arguing on the driveway, and the woman’s family members intervened.

Cooper retrieved a loaded firearm from his vehicle, the affidavit states. He pointed the weapon at his wife and several of her family members, according to the report.

Cooper’s wife unsuccessfully tried to take the firearm away from him, and other family members wrestled Cooper into his car, authorities reported. Cooper left quickly, leaving ruts in the driveway.

When deputies contacted Cooper at his house and told him he was under arrest, Cooper began thrashing violently, flailing his arms and complaining of chest pains, the arrest report states.

Cooper complained of chest pain, and was taken to a hospital.

“While at the hospital, (Cooper) started becoming very violent and began thrashing and wailing his arms, nearly striking several medical staff members and deputies,” a deputy wrote. “He then had to be restrained to the hospital bed.”

State health department records show Cooper received his nursing license in January 2001.

Springbrook Hospital is a 66-bed, for-profit psychiatric facility with 61 adult psychiatric patient units and five adult substance abuse units, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.


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