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Over-Medication Kills Three Nursing Home Patients in California

David W. Hodges
Partner at Kennedy Hodges LLP practicing pharmacy error, medical malpractice and personal injury law
Posted on Apr 18, 2012
In a shocking case of over-medication in nursing homes, a California staff member has been accused of chemically restraining patients, three of whom died under her care.

Prosecutors say that Gwen Hughes regularly used anti-psychotic drugs to restrain patients while working as nursing director at the Kern Valley Nursing Home from 2003 to 2007. California Attorney General Jerry Brown told court officials that Hughes ordered one patient drugged just for glaring at her, and another for throwing a carton of milk. 

Under Hughes’ authority, residents were dehydrated, drooling, and emaciated, and in some cases, “elderly people were actually held down, restrained against their will, and given excessive amounts of medicine to keep them quiet." During her tenure, three patients died as a result of complications from unnecessary medication.

The case also revealed that Hughes had been fired from a nursing home in Fresno for over-drugging residents. before working at Kern Valley. Her previous administrator testified that her next employer was told only the dates she worked there because they feared legal recrimination.

Hughes and two other nursing home officials, administrator Pamela Ott and staff physician Dr. Hoshang Pormir, have been charged with several counts of elder abuse. Each defendant faces up to 11 years in prison, and all have pleaded not guilty. Debbi Gayle Hayes, a former pharmacist at the facility, accepted a plea bargain and will testify for the prosecution.

The case calls national attention to the use of medications to sedate patients, a trend that is on the rise now that physical restraints have been made illegal in nursing homes.

Center for Medicare Advocacy member Toby Edelman advises family members to watch their loved ones’ caretakers closely for signs of abuse. "They're hiding the restraints. A physical restraint is visible, but a chemical restraint is not."

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