WOODSTOCK, Ill. (WBBM) — A Woodstock nursing home supervisor repeatedly allowed an employee to give excessive doses of morphine to patients, including at least one who died of a morphine overdose, McHenry County prosecutors said Tuesday.
Opening arguments began today in the first trial in the McHenry County “Angel of Death” case.
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Nursing director Penny Whitlock took no action against nurse Marty Himebaugh for her alleged overmedicating of patients — except to dub her the “Angel of Death,” prosecutor Philip Hiscock said as Whitlock’s trial opened.
“Penny Whitlock was advised Marty Himebaugh was overmedicating patients. She did nothing,” Hiscock said, adding Whitlock showed “cold, callous indifference to her patients.”
Whitlock, 62, was charged with criminal neglect and obstruction of justice following a lengthy investigation into six suspicious deaths in 2006 at the Woodstock Residence nursing center in the northwest suburb. The bodies of three nursing home patients who died there during that time were later exhumed as part of the 15-month probe into the deaths.
Himebaugh, 60, also faces neglect charges, as well as charges of improperly obtaining and dispensing morphine.
Neither woman was charged in the deaths of any patients at the 115-bed nursing home, though Hiscock told jurors medical tests show at least one of the patients there died of morphine intoxication from being overmedicated.
Whitlock allowed Himebaugh to give hefty doses of the powerful narcotic to control troublesome or ailing patients, authorities have said.
A former nurse testified Tuesday that she was ordered by Whitlock on Aug. 14, 2006 to give Himebaugh “an unopened bottle of morphine” for a patient who didn’t yet have his own prescription for the drug.
That patient, Alvin Rudsinski, died a few hours later, nurse Eleanore Larocco testified Tuesday.
After his death, Larocco said she searched medication carts in the center but could find no trace of the morphine bottle she earlier had given Himebaugh.
When she asked Whitlock about the drug and the death the next day, Larocco said her boss dismissed her question, then laughed.
“What is this? Five or six now?” Larocco said Whitlock answered.
Another patient, Jean Hannah, died on April 8, 2006, hours after Larocco said she saw Himebaugh come out of her room carrying a morphine bottle.
Larocco and another nurse, along with Whitlock and Himebaugh, were later discussing the death when Whitlock made a stunning remark to Himebaugh, Larocco testified.
“Penny said, ‘I don’t care if you play Angel of Death, just don’t let me know about it,’ ” Larocco said.
Whitlock’s attorney denied that she ever acted improperly or neglected patients.
“How does someone who’s cold and callous get to be promoted to director of nursing?” defense attorney Nils von Keudell said, dismissing the charges against her as “rumor, circumstance, hearsay and innuendo.”
If convicted, Whitlock faces up to three years in prison.
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