Brown Announces Arrests of Nursing Home Employees Who Drugged Patients for Staff's Convenience

Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 18, 2009
Contact: Christine Gasparac (916) 324-5500

Brown Announces Arrests of Nursing Home Employees Who Drugged Patients for Staff’s Convenience

BAKERSFIELD –Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced the arrests of a nurse, physician, and a pharmacist of a nursing home for “forcibly administering” psychotropic medications for their own convenience, rather than for their patients’ therapeutic interests, actions that are alleged to have resulted in the deaths of three residents.

“These people maliciously violated the trust of their patients, by holding them down and forcibly administering psychotropic medications if they dared to question their care,” Attorney General Brown said. “This is appalling behavior, which amounts to assault with a deadly weapon.”

Earlier today, California Department of Justice special agents arrested three individuals:

• 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.

• 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.

Upon taking over as Director of Nursing in September 2006, Gwen 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. Hughes is also alleged to have directed Debbi Hayes, the hospital pharmacist, to fill prescriptions for these psychotropic medications. Hayes wrote and filled these prescriptions without first obtaining a doctor’s approval.

Dr. Hoshang 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 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.

Criminal charges were filed in Kern County Superior Court. The defendants are being held in Kern County Jail in Bakersfield. They will be arraigned on Friday. If convicted, the 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 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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