Yesterday, Gwen D. Hughes, the former Director of Nursing of Kern Valley Healthcare District’s nursing home was sentenced to three years in prison for drugging residents into submission with antipsychotic and anti-seizure drugs. Hughes was the last of four defendants, including the facility’s former pharmacist, acting medical director, and administrator, charged with various crimes related to the systematic forced drugging of residents in 2006. Three of the residents died from being overmedicated.
In 2009, the California Attorney General brought charges against Hughes and her co- workers after an investigation revealed that 23 residents had been regularly drugged with powerful psychotropic drugs for staff convenience, some after being pinned down and given an injection. Many of the residents swiftly deteriorated after being chemically restrained, becoming lethargic, malnourished, and dehydrated.
Hughes was identified as the leader of the effort to drug Kern Valley residents. At her command, residents were drugged for actions like refusing to eat in the dining room, throwing milk, and bumping into objects with their wheelchairs. She was initially charged with assault with a deadly weapon, an apt description of what passed as dementia treatment at Kern Valley.
Upon hearing the news of Hughes’ sentence, Patricia McGinnis, Executive Director of CANHR, stated “three residents died as a result of being overdrugged 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.”
Hughes’ prison sentence sends a long overdue message that drugging residents for staff convenience or without clinical indication is elder abuse and will have criminal consequences. In a state where nearly 60% of all nursing home residents receive at least one psychotropic drug, the message should resonate throughout California’s 1200 nursing homes.
To view the full State report on the systemic drugging of Kern Valley residents, CLICK HERE (PDF).