BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) — A former California nursing director was sentenced Wednesday to three years in state prison for inappropriately medicating elderly patients at a Kern County nursing home, including one who died, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said.
Gwen D. Hughes, who worked at Kern Valley Healthcare District's facility in Lake Isabella, was originally charged in the deaths of three patient deaths. But she pleaded no contest in October in Kern County Superior Court to one felony count of elder abuse with a special allegation that the abuse contributed to the victim's death.
California Department of Justice officials allege that Hughes, 59, ordered the hospital's director of pharmacy to write doctor's orders for psychotropic medication for 23 patients — not for therapeutic reasons, but to keep them quiet.
Officials say the drugs were given to patients who were noisy, prone to wandering, who complained about conditions or were argumentative. Many of the patients suffered from Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
The investigation found that the drugs hastened three patients' deaths, and all 23 suffered adverse physical reactions.
"This defendant maliciously and dangerously drugged patients for her own personal convenience. This is clearly outrageous conduct that justifies a state prison sentence," Harris said in a written statement.
The doctor's orders were later signed by the medical director, Dr. Hoshang Pormir, who in July 2012 was sentenced to 300 hours of volunteer service, restitution pending conclusion of civil lawsuits, and a requirement to comply with all orders from the state medical board. Investigators say Pormir failed to conduct examinations of patients or monitor their reactions to medications.
Pamela Ott, the former chief executive officer of the Kern Valley Health District, pleaded no contest to one felony count of conspiracy to commit an act injurious to the public health, based on her failure to adequately supervise Hughes. Ott was sentenced to three years of formal probation, 300 hours of volunteer service, restitution, and a requirement to comply with the medical board's orders.
The California Department of Public Health first began to investigate the facility in 2007, following complaints from an ombudsman that a patient at the facility had been held down and forcibly injected with psychotropic medicine. They found evidence of patient harm and turned the case over to the Justice Department.