Coffs Harbour hospital
Coffs Harbour hospital Trevor Veale

Cocaine-dealing nurse has registration win in court

A Coffs Harbour nurse has avoided losing her registration following a conviction for dealing cocaine.

In 2019 Lauren Russ was convicted of assisting her husband supply cocaine on six occasions from their family home just outside Coffs Harbour.

At the time of her arrest, Ms Russ was working as a registered nurse in the surgical ward of Coffs Harbour hospital, where she had been working for close to ten years.

This week the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal issued a formal reprimand and ordered Ms Russ, by consent, pay costs of $8000 to the Health Care Complaints Commission.

The Commission was seeking the cancellation of Ms Russ' registration, claiming the offence rendered her "unfit in the public interest" to practice nursing.

However, the Tribunal was "not persuaded" the offences, along with an admission of occasional use of the drug herself, rendered her unfit.

In its findings the Tribunal noted that evidence indicated the offences were "not emblematic of her fundamental character" or capacity to conduct herself as a nurse.

Lauren Russ worked at Coffs Harbour hospital for close to ten years, including at the time of the offences.

"There is no evidence that Ms Russ's involvement in her husband's illegal drug activities affected her professional competence as a nurse," the findings stated.

After a suspension on her registration was lifted in 2020, Ms Russ was required to work under "indirect supervision", a condition which remains in place, however she has not worked as a nurse since being convicted in 2019.

In a statement provided to the Tribunal, Ms Russ said the past 12 months had been the "most challenging of my life", becoming a single mother while her husband was in prison and being forced to sell the family home.

Ms Russ acknowledged the harm she had caused the community, immediate family and her "nursing family" through the supply of a dangerous substance.

"Nothing compares to (the) embarrassment and shame I feel knowing that I have contributed to drugs being in our society," she said.

During the proceedings Ms Russ stated her husband began using cocaine in 2017 to "keep himself going" after becoming depressed during a downturn in his concreting business.

She became aware he was selling the drug when he gave her a "heads up" people would come to the property to pick up and drop off things, before her involvement escalated from "turning a blind eye" to assistance in drug supply.

The Tribunal was satisfied it is highly unlikely Ms Russ would again turn a blind eye or assist her husband in any illegal activity and were satisfied the reprimand, which will remain on her public record of registration, would operate as personal and general deterrence.