Elder abuse of any kind is a crime potentially punishable by prison time in California. The recent sentencing of the former Director of Nursing of Kern Valley Healthcare District’s nursing home to three years in prison for “convenience drugging” reminds us that elder abuse extends far beyond neglect, financial or obvious physical abuse.
Charged with chemically restraining patients under her care, while serving as Director of Nursing of Kern Valley Healthcare District’s nursing home, Gwen D. Hughes will spend the next three years in prison for drugging residents into submission using antipsychotic and anti-seizure medications. Ultimately, three patients of the facility died as a result of being over-drugged.
According to a press release from the California Attorney General’s office, “Hughes ordered the administration of psychotropic medications to 23 elderly residents of the skilled nursing facility not for therapeutic reasons, but instead to control and quiet them for the convenience of staff. The drugs were given to patients who were noisy, prone to wandering, who complained about conditions or were argumentative. The drugs hastened three patients’ deaths, according to the investigation, and all 23 suffered some form of adverse physical reaction as a result. Many of the patients were under care for Alzheimer’s or dementia.”
The charges in this case were brought against Hughes and three co-workers in 2009. Hughes was the final defendant to be sentenced and the only defendant sentenced to prison time for her role as the proverbial ringleader. Evidence indicated that Hughes directed the hospital’s director of pharmacy to write doctor’s orders for the unnecessary psychotropic medications.
According to Attorney General Kamala D. Harris “Elder abuse in skilled nursing facilities is a particularly heinous crime because vulnerable victims and their families have placed their trust in the facilities to provide quality care, preserve their dignity and enjoy a better quality of life. This defendant maliciously and dangerously drugged patients for her own personal convenience. This is clearly outrageous conduct that justifies a state prison sentence.”
According to a statement released by the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), Patricia McGinnis, Executive Director of CANHR stated “three residents died as a result of being over drugged at Kern Valley Healthcare and many more suffered severely. Three years in prison is at least some retribution for their deaths, and hopefully Ms. Hughes’ sentence will be a warning to other facilities who think that drugs can substitute for adequate staffing.”
Elder abuse in California is both a criminal and civil offense. Criminal elder abuse describes the willful infliction of physical or emotional suffering on an elder. Civil elder abuse includes any physical or financial abuse, neglect or abandonment resulting in physical or mental harm.