Patient claims belongings stolen while she was in COVID Unit

Thefts and complaints were filed over the last 2 years in Middle Tennessee.
Published: May. 19, 2022 at 7:03 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Being hospitalized can put you at your most vulnerable.

Yet, News4 Investigates found hundreds of thefts happening at hospitals across Middle Tennessee every year.

While battling COVID-19 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Jennifer Lee’s wish was to just make it out alive.

“This was my third Christmas in a hospital in a row,” Lee said.

Never did she think that she’d become the victim of a crime.

“While I was there, apparently one time I was in the bathroom, I came out and I went to get something out of my purse and everything in my purse was soaking wet,” Lee said.

That’s when she noticed her drivers’ license, social security card and two of her debit cards were gone.

“I started getting these messages on the phone from my bank saying these transactions were going through, and I’m wondering, how are transactions going through? It’s Dec. 23. I’m in the hospital,” Lee said.

In total, $1,200 was charged to her account in an apparent shopping spree.

“It was the Kid’s Foot Locker, the regular Foot Locker, some cell phone companies,” Lee said.

Police eventually arrested Shonkeydra Johnson, charging her with theft in the case. Vanderbilt University Medical Center confirmed Johnson worked at the hospital and no longer works there.

“I’m not the only person she stole from. When we went to court there were probably five other people that were there, and we were the ones that survived,” Lee said. “How many people that didn’t survive did she hit up.”

Sadly, Lee isn’t the only one.

News4 Investigates obtained public records for the number of reported thefts at six Nashville area hospitals between 2019 and 2021.

News4 Investigates found close to 400 reports alone with many of them at Vanderbilt.

Among the reported stolen items: iPads, credit cards, wallets and wedding rings. It’s a number that upsets Lee.

“Just the fact that there’s that many dishonest people in the world. That would take advantage of people who are just trying to get better,” Lee said.

“Unfortunately, our hospitals are representation of the communities. Crimes occur in communities, so they occur in hospitals,” former IAHSS President Paul Sarnese said.

Sarnese was the head of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety.

“Hospitals do everything they can to keep their patients safe and secure, but unfortunately, there’s crimes of opportunity that are taken advantage of and sometimes it’s the most vulnerable that are targeted because they’re easy victims,” Sarnese said.

Sarnese said their most recent crime survey shows on average, a hospital of 100 beds will have around 4.9 thefts, which he said is a common number. He said your best just to leave important belongings at home.

“The jewelry and anything that’s important to you, you’re not going to need it when you’re at a hospital,” Sarnese said. “You’re not going to need cash. You’re not going to need your watch.”

As for Lee’s case, it’s still pending in court. She hopes those who commit these crimes pay for what they’ve done. She said no one should be targeted at their weakest moment.

“Even though the bank gave me my money back, why does she get to go spend my money on her kids at Christmas? I hope they had a good Christmas cause ours was ruined,” Lee said.

Some of the thefts reported at Vanderbilt were also made by employees and staff.

News4 Investigates reached out to Vanderbilt University Police for an interview to talk about safety for both patients and employees. The department has not returned our calls.

News4 also reached out to Johnson by phone, email and the attorney listed for her on the Davidson County Criminal Court’s website. They have not returned calls.

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