HACKENSACK — A 31-year-old contract nurse accused of attacking and burning a coworker in a break room at Hackensack University Medical Center is wanted for attempted murder, among other charges.

Nicholas Pagano, of West Deptford, was at large as of Monday night and should be considered armed and dangerous, Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella announced, adding members of the public should not approach Pagano but instead call police.

Pagano also was wanted on charges of aggravated arson, aggravated assault and unlawful weapons possession, stemming from the incident early Monday morning, in which he burned a 54-year-old female hospital worker and hit her with a wrench, according to Musella.

He was believed to be operating a 1998 white Jeep Grand Cherokee with black roof racks and New Jersey license plate number S57 NJH.

Nicholas Pagano (BCPO)
Nicholas Pagano (BCPO)

The victim suffered third-degree burns over her upper body, face and hands, as well as a cut to her head that required stitches, according to the prosecutor.

She was treated in the emergency room at HUMC and then taken to another medical facility for additional care.

The nurse, later identified as Pagano, had been vetted by his agency, including state and county background checks, drug screening and a license review and had been working in Hackensack since mid-November.

Hackensack University Medical Center
Hackensack University Medical Center (Hackensack Meridian Health)

The hospital issued this statement:

"Violence will not be tolerated in our network. Our doctors, nurses and teams are true heroes and deserve our respect. The safety of our patients and our team members is Hackensack Meridian Health’s highest priority."

Musella said the Hackensack Police Department was assisting in the investigation.

Additional security had been stationed throughout the Hackensack campus, the hospital spokesperson added.

No potential motive for the attack was shared as of Monday evening.

An independent nurse contractor is a health care professional who works on a contract basis, rather than being employed full time at one place and typically travels to different locations to support staff during shortages.

The demand for such workers has spiked due to the continued toll of the COVID pandemic.

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