Nursing Home Director Heading to Prison

Gwen D. Hughes, a former California nursing home director, was sentenced on Wednesday to three years in state prison for inappropriately medicating patients at a Kern County nursing home. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Hughes was originally charged in the deaths of three patients. Hughes however pleaded no contest in October to one felony count of elder abuse with a special allegation that the abuse contributed to the victim’s death, according to the article.

Hughes was working as nursing home director at Kern Valley Healthcare District’s facility in Lake Isabella at the time of the alleged crimes. California Department of Justice officials, including Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, allege that Hughes ordered the director of pharmacy to write doctor’s orders for psychotropic medication for 23 patients.

The prescriptions were not written for health or therapeutic reasons, but instead written to “keep them quiet” says the article. The Justice Officials allege that the psychotropic drugs were given to patients who were “noisy, prone to wandering, who complained about conditions or were argumentative” according to the article. This is clearly an example of nursing home abuse.

All 23 patients suffered some adverse reactions. The investigation found that the drugs actually hastened the deaths of three patients.

Dr. Hoshang Pormir was the medical director who signed the doctor’s orders related to these incidents. He was sentenced in July of 2012 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. The article explains that Pormir was punished because he failed to conduct examinations of patients or monitor the patients’ reactions to the medications.

We previously wrote about Pamela Ott, the former chief executive officer of the Kern Valley Health District, who pleaded no contest to one felony count of conspiracy to commit an act injurious to the public health. She was charged because she failed to adequately supervise Hughes.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said, in a written statement describing Hughes, “This defendant maliciously and dangerously drugged patients for her own personal convenience. This is clearly outrageous conduct that justifies a state prison sentence.” In a previous blog post on new investigations of elder abuse, we discussed the attorney general’s plan to ramp up its investigations of instances of criminal abuse. Hughes sentencing is clear evidence that Harris means business and that she, along with her new task force, is out to investigate and prosecute instances of abuse.

This case represents a breakdown on multiple levels. The chief executive officer failed to supervise the nursing home directors. The nursing home directors gave orders that the medical staff went along with without going through the proper procedure. As a result, 23 elderly individuals suffered and three lost their lives. There are guidelines and systems in place in nursing homes to keep this from happening. Unfortunately when the people in charge of enforcing the rules and regulations are the ones breaking them, the system breaks down very quickly – with severe consequences.

Please See Our Related Blog Posts:

Former Head Nurse to Stand Trial for Felony Elder Abuse
Lawsuit Takes Aim at State Regulators and Nursing Home Management