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Kern County Nursing Home Staff Forcefully Drugged Patients, Officials Say


Three nursing home staff members in Kern County have been arrested on suspicion of forcibly drugging patients for their own convenience, an act which resulted in the death of three residents. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the three victims were identified as Fannie May Brinkley, a patient in her 90s; Joseph Shepter, 76; and Alexander Zaiko, 85.

Attorney General Jerry Brown announced the arrests of Gwen Hughes, a former nurse, Debbi Hayes, a pharmacist and Dr. Hoshang Pormir, a physician at Kern Valley Healthcare District in Lake Isabella. All three face elder nursing home abuse charges while Hughes and Hayes face assault with a deadly weapon charges as well. According to the charges filed, among the drugs these so-called professionals used for “chemical restraint” were Zyprexa, Depakote and Risperdal. The families of all three victims have also filed civil complaints against the nursing home.

Apparently, Hughes who took over as Director of Nursing, ordered that Alzheimer’s and dementia patients at the skilled nursing facility be given high doses of psychotropic medications so they would be easy to handle and control. She ordered the forcible drugging of patients who argued with her or were noisy, disruptive or inconvenient to deal with.

This is nursing home abuse at its worst. My heart goes out to the families of the patients who died as a result of this horrible abuse. I hope these former staff members are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and get the punishment they deserve. Although there are civil remedies and nursing homes can be made to pay dearly if they abused or neglected residents, protecting the elderly so that they are not abused or neglected, is extremely important.

These charges apparently came after an investigation that started in January 2007, when an ombudsman complained to the state Department of Public Health. The district fired Hughes after a tenure of only five months. Hayes later left, but Pormir still works as a district physician. This is a direct quote from the LA Times article: “The district would not comment on specific allegations but issued a statement indicating that it “will not tolerate any behavior by employees that jeopardizes the safety of our patients.” It said that state inspections since January 2007 have found no major problems.”

The facts show that the district did just that. They tolerated behavior by employees that jeopardized the safety of patients. Everyone and every agency involved needs to be held accountable, both criminally and civilly. When the penalties are high enough the owners and operators of these facilities will either do what is right, be in jail or will not be in the business of caring for the elderly and frail.

These stories are sickening. If you have a loved one in a nursing home and you have a sense that something isn’t right, your intuition and your inner wisdom is sending you a message. Listen to it and act on it.

If you are looking to place a loved one in a nursing home and having a tough time evaluating a facility, here is an excellent checklist that tells you what you should look for in a nursing home. Sad-looking residents, patients wandering around, lack of cleanliness – can all be symptoms of a deeper and darker problem.

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