By Terry Baynes
Jan 9 (Reuters) - A California nursing director was
sentenced on Wednesday to three years in state prison for giving
elderly patients powerful anti-psychotic drugs to make them more
tranquil and easy to control, the state attorney general
A Kern County Superior Court judge sentenced Gwen Hughes,
the 59-year-old former director of nursing at a Kern Valley
Healthcare District hospital, near Bakersfield, to three years
in prison for ordering 23 elderly patients to be drugged with
psychotropic medications to keep them quiet for the convenience
of the staff.
Before the case went to trial, Hughes in October pleaded no
contest to one felony count of elder abuse that contributed to a
The sentencing marked the conclusion of an unusual case in
which prosecutors were able to use elder abuse laws to
criminally charge a medical professional with so-called
According to a press release by the California Attorney
General's office announcing the sentencing, Hughes ordered the
drugs for patients, many with Alzheimer's or dementia, who were
noisy, argumentative or prone to wandering. The drugs
contributed to the deaths of three patients, and all 23 suffered
complications, said the release.
Hughes's lawyer, public defender Dana Kinnison, said there
was no malicious intent ever alleged in the case.
"It's just a case of negligence that tragically resulted in
some deaths," he said, adding that Hughes had no prior criminal
But California Attorney General Kamala Harris said Hughes's
conduct deserved a state prison sentence.
"This defendant maliciously and dangerously drugged patients
for her own convenience," Harris said in a statement.
Prosecutors said Hughes directed the hospital's pharmacy
director to write doctor's orders for the unnecessary drugs.
Those orders were later signed by Hoshang Pormir, the center's
medical director. Pormir was sentenced in July to 300 hours of
A lawyer for Pormir did not immediately respond to a request
Toby Edelman, an attorney at the Center for Medicare
Advocacy, said the facts in Hughes's case were extreme but that
the overuse of anti-psychotic drugs on nursing home residents is
rampant and a serious problem.
Edelman testified at a U.S. Senate hearing in November 2011
that 83 percent of Medicare claims for drugs for the elderly
were for off-label conditions or uses not approved by the Food
and Drug Administration. Last year, the Centers for Medicare and
Medicaid Services launched a campaign to reduce the use of
anti-psychotic drugs in nursing homes.
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