When people began to suspect a nurse was medicating patients in a skilled nursing facility in order to control their behavior and for her own convenience and the convenience of her staff, special agents with the California Department of Justice (DOJ) stepped in. What they uncovered sent Gwen Hughes, 59, the director of a Kern Valley Healthcare District hospital to prison for three years.
"Nobody wants their loved one treated like this," said Alan Barcelona, president of the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association(CSLEA). "DOJ special agents are CSLEA members who do a tremendous job. They're in the trenches, digging deep to uncover those who are out to harm us. This case touched a lot of us, because we have aging parents and grandparents and we have to entrust their care to others."
Hughes was sentenced to prison, January 9th, after pleading no contest to one felony count of elder abuse with a special allegation that the abuse contributed to a victim's death.
According to the Attorney General's office, Hughes ordered that psychotropic drugs be given to 23 elderly patients who were noisy, argumentative or prone to wander. Special agents determined the drugs hastened the deaths of three patients. Many of the patients who were given the drugs suffered from Alzheimer's or dementia.
Attorney General Kamala Harris called it 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 case was investigated by DOJ special agents in the Bureau of Medical Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA). Two other health care workers were charged in the case and have been sentenced to probation and/or community service.