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Brown Files Criminal Charges Against Former Nursing Home Administrator in Kern Valley Elder Abuse Case

Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Contact: (415) 703-5837

Bakersfield – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced that Kern Valley Hospital administrator Pamela Ott was charged on eight felony counts of elder abuse today for allowing staff to forcibly administer psychotropic medications to patients for their own convenience, rather than for their patients’ therapeutic interests. These actions are alleged to have resulted in the deaths of three nursing home residents.

“As hospital administrator, Pamela Ott, was ultimately responsible for safeguarding the welfare of her patients,” Brown said. “Instead, Ott abdicated her responsibility and allowed the staff of the Kern Valley Hospital to foricibly sedate patients who questioned their care.”

Brown the charges against Ott in Kern County Superior Court. She surrendered herself in court this morning and pled not guilty. She was released on her own recognizance on the condition that she not run a skilled nursing facility. A preliminary hearing is set for November 4, 2009. Today’s charges are in addition to those filed in February 2009 against:

• Gwen Hughes, the former Director of Nursing at the skilled nursing facility of the Kern Valley Healthcare District in Lake Isabella, Kern County on charges of elder abuse and assault with a deadly weapon.

• Debbi Hayes, the former pharmacist at the Valley Healthcare District, on charges of elder abuse and assault with a deadly weapon. On August 14, 2009, Hayes pled no contest to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit an act injurious to public health. She is a cooperating witness for the people.

• Dr. Hoshang Pormir, a staff physician at Kern Valley Healthcare District, who was serving as the medical director of the skilled nursing facility, on charges of elder abuse.

As the Administrator of the Kern Valley Health Care District, Ott hired and supervised Director of Nursing Gwen Hughes.

Upon taking over in September 2006, Hughes ordered that Alzheimer's and other dementia patients be given high doses of psychotropic medications to make them more tranquil and easy to control. She ordered the administration of these medications to patients who argued with her, were noisy, or who were otherwise disruptive. Two patients who resisted were held down and forcibly given injections. Ms. Ott was informed of these actions and allowed them to continue.

Hughes is also alleged to have directed Debbi Hayes, the hospital pharmacist, to fill prescriptions for psychotropic medications. Hayes wrote and filled these prescriptions without first obtaining a doctor's approval.

Dr. Pormir approved these psychotropic medications only some time after they had been administered and without examining the patients first and determining whether these psychotropic medications were medically necessary.

Several of these patients are alleged to have had medical complications as a result of being given these psychotropic medications, including lethargy and the inability to eat or drink properly. It is believed that three patients died and one patient suffered great bodily injury as a result.

The investigation

Kern Valley Healthcare District operates a small community hospital and skilled nursing facility in Lake Isabella. The case came to the attention of authorities in January 2007, when an ombudsman reported to the Bakersfield office of the California Department of Public Health that a patient in the skilled nursing facility had been held down and given an injection of psychotropic medication by force.

The Department of Public Health immediately sent an investigative team with a doctor, a nurse, and a doctor of pharmacology. They determined that 22 patients, including some who were suffering from Alzheimer's at the skilled nursing facility, were being given high doses of psychotropic medication not for therapeutic reasons, but to simply control and quiet them for the convenience of the staff.

The Department of Public Health issued a Certificate of Immediate Jeopardy which resulted in the immediate dismissal of the Ms. Hughes. The matter was then turned over to the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse.

Special Agents from the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse began a year-long investigation, with the co-operation and assistance of the Department of Public Health and the administration of the Kern Valley Healthcare District.

A search warrant was served on the facility in August 2008, resulting in the seizure of numerous medical files and records.

If convicted, all defendants could face up to 11 years in prison.

The case is being prosecuted by the Attorney General's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse, with the co-operation and assistance of the Kern County District Attorney's Office.

To view the news releases issued February 2009 about this case, go to http://ag.ca.gov/newsalerts/release.php?id=1682&.

To report elder abuse or Medi-Cal fraud, call the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse's hotline at (800) 722-0432.

The complaints are attached.

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