Investigation continues after Britthaven nurse's arrest
Posted June 9, 2010 10:55 p.m. EDT
Updated June 9, 2010 11:43 p.m. EDT
Chapel Hill, N.C. — The investigation into the February death of an Alzheimer's patient at a Chapel Hill nursing home has an attorney looking into how drugs are administered at the facility.
Nine of the approximately 25 patients in the Alzheimer's unit at Britthaven of Chapel Hill tested positive in mid-February for opiates, a class of controlled substances often used for pain management, officials said. Six of them were hospitalized, and 84-year-old Rachel Holliday, died on Feb. 16.
Angela Almore, 44, of 724 Berwick Valley Lane in Cary, was indicted Monday on one count of second-degree murder in connection with Holliday's death. Almore is also charged with six counts of felony patient abuse.
Rocky Mount attorney Carma Henson is representing three of the families of Alzheimer's patients at Britthaven who tested positive for opiates.
“We are trying to get to the bottom of this,” Henson said Wednesday.
Indictments identified the other hospitalized patients as Marion Woodward, Dorothy Willis, James Scanlan, Eloise Hill, Pauline Lyons and Josephine Kernan. The indictments allege that Almore intentionally caused each to "ingest morphine that proximately caused serious bodily injury."
According to Henson, one of her clients was a Britthaven patient hospitalized for a morphine overdose. The attorney said her client, who she would not identify, was released from the hospital but died in April.
“We are looking into what role, if any, the morphine overdose had into her death,” Henson said.
Officials have said Holliday and some of the other Alzheimer's patients who tested positive weren't supposed to be receiving any pain medication at Britthaven.
An autopsy wasn't performed on Holliday, but a medical examiner who reviewed her records determined that she died because of pneumonia-related asphyxiation. The report listed "morphine toxicity" as a contributing factor to her death, noting that tests done at UNC Hospitals before her death determined she had a morphine level of more than 50,000 nanograms per milliliter of urine.
Drug testing done in the military and many workplaces considers a morphine level of 2,000 nanograms per milliliter as a positive test result.
Henson said her investigation is going beyond Almore's alleged role and is looking into where the morphine came from and whether someone prescribed the drug to the patients.
“A nurse should not be able to just get access to morphine that is not prescribed for patients and give them to anyone they want to. This can't be just a rogue nurse gone bad,” Henson said.
The state Nursing Home Licensure Section is conducting a separate investigation of any procedural violations, which could lead to penalties for Britthaven, at 1716 Legion Road.
The agency sent a team of inspectors to Britthaven two days after Holliday's death to gather information about drugs administered to Alzheimer's patients there.
Henson said she wants the investigation to also shed light on other nursing home abuses.
“The point of doing this is to bring about some good. It’s too late for some residents, but there are a lot of people still in nursing homes that need this kind of help,” she said.
Henson also said her clients' families plan on filing a lawsuit.
“The families of these residents are very concerned about how this was allowed to happen to their loved ones,” she said.
Britthaven declined to comment Wednesday on the case.
Almore was being held Wednesday in the Orange County jail under $500,000 bond. Her next court appearance is set for July.