Hospital staff at Ulm University Medical Center in southern Germany went into high alert on December 20 after five premature newborns, aged between a day and a month old, began to experience life-threatening breathing difficulties around the same time, reported the Associated Press, citing German officials.
The hospital later alerted police after the infants’ urine tests revealed the painkiller morphine was present in their systems. German authorities responded to the report and recovered a syringe filled with morphine and breast milk from an employee’s locker during their search.
“We have to assume that a crime was committed with criminal energy at our hospital,” said Klaus-Michael Debatin, medical director of the hospital’s pediatric department, as reported by the New York Times.
The nurse in question, whose identity has not been publicly released in accordance with German law, has since been detained by police officers and appeared in front of a judge on Wednesday.
District Attorney Christof Lehr told reporters that the nurse denied administering morphine to the children, but she will be ordered to remain in police custody, as her attempted manslaughter charges are still pending. Lehr also noted that the woman’s psychological state is being evaluated as part of the ongoing investigation.
The five premature children given the morphine are not expected to suffer permanent damage from the event. "Only because of immediate action taken by the staff could the five lives be saved," said Bernard Weber, chief of Ulm’s police, during a press conference on Thursday, according to AFP.
"We very much regret that this incident could have happened, and we sincerely apologize to the parents and children," the hospital said in a statement obtained by the outlet. "We can all very much sympathize with the parents' concern for the health of their children."