Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Announces Nurse Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison for “Convenience Drugging” Elder Patients

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
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BAKERSFIELD -- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced the sentencing of the former Director of Nursing of a Kern Valley Healthcare District hospital with a skilled nursing facility, a rare case in which a medical professional has been criminally charged and sentenced under elder abuse laws for the illegal chemical restraint of patients. 

Gwen D. Hughes, 59, the former Director of Nursing, was sentenced to three years in state prison Wednesday in Kern County Superior Court. Hughes pled no contest on October 11, 2012 to one felony count of elder abuse with a special allegation that the abuse contributed to the victim’s death.

Hughes ordered the administration of psychotropic medications to 23 elderly residents of the skilled nursing facility not for therapeutic reasons, but instead to control and quiet them for the convenience of staff. The drugs were given to patients who were noisy, prone to wandering, who complained about conditions or were argumentative. The drugs hastened three patients’ deaths, according to the investigation, and all 23 suffered some form of adverse physical reaction as a result. Many of the patients were under care for Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“Elder abuse in skilled nursing facilities is a particularly heinous crime because vulnerable victims and their families have placed their trust in the facilities to provide quality care, preserve their dignity and enjoy a better quality of life,” Attorney General Harris said. “This defendant maliciously and dangerously drugged patients for her own personal convenience. This is clearly outrageous conduct that justifies a state prison sentence.”

This case was investigated and charged by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Medical Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA). Reflecting Attorney General Harris’ career-long commitment to elder abuse prosecutions, BMFEA has created specialized teams in Sacramento and Los Angeles composed of legal and medical professionals to investigate cases involving systemic elder abuse.

The California Department of Public Health began an initial investigation in 2007, following complaints from an ombudsman that a patient in the skilled nursing facility had been held down and injected with psychotropic medicine by force. They found evidence of patient harm, and issued a Certificate of Immediate Jeopardy against the facility, before turning the case over to the Justice Department.

Evidence indicated that Hughes directed the hospital’s director of pharmacy to write doctor’s orders for the unnecessary psychotropic medications.   

The orders were signed at a later time by the medical director. Pamela Ott, former chief executive officer of the Kern Valley Health District, pled no contest to one felony count of conspiracy to commit an act injurious to the public health based on her failure to adequately supervise the Director of Nursing. Ott was sentenced to three years formal probation, 300 hours of volunteer service, restitution pending conclusion of civil lawsuits. She is required to comply with all orders from the Registered Nursing Board, which is conducting its own investigation into the matter. 

In July 2012, Dr. Hoshang Pormir, the Medical Director, was also sentenced to 300 hours of volunteer service, restitution pending conclusion of civil lawsuits, and a requirement to comply with all orders from the Medical Board. Pormir failed to conduct examinations of patients or monitor their reactions to medications.

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