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Nursing home deaths not about mercy, report indicates
By Charles Keeshan | Daily Herald Staff

Marty Himebaugh

 

Penny Whitlock

 

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Published: 9/24/2008 6:12 PM | Updated: 9/25/2008 11:26 AM

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A series of suspicious deaths at a McHenry County nursing home in 2006 may not have been mercy killings, but instead the work of a nurse overdosing patients she found troublesome or believed had lived long enough, according to state investigatory report.

A 130-page report from the Illinois Department of Public Health claims the nurse told co-workers she gave restless patients drug cocktails to keep them calm and flatly stated that "she made sure" one patient would not make it through the day.

The same nurse, when speaking about a 56-year-old patient with Down syndrome, told a co-worker "Those people aren't meant to live that long. They are meant to die in their teens and I'm going to help him along," the report states.

The report, based largely on nursing home records and interviews with its staff, was generated as part of a 15-month state investigation into six mysterious deaths at the Woodstock Residence in Woodstock.

The investigation led to indictments in April against former nurse Marty Himebaugh of Lake in the Hills and her supervisor, Penny Whitlock of Woodstock.

Himebaugh, 57, faces criminal neglect charges alleging she intentionally gave four patients, unsafe doses of drugs, including morphine. All four later died, some within hours of receiving the drugs, but Himebaugh is not accused of intentionally killing them.

The report, however, indicates several Woodstock Residence employees believed that was exactly what one nurse, identified as E14 in the reports, was trying to accomplish.

"E14 made repeated negative statements to her peers about hastening the death of residents receiving end of life care," the report states. "Morphine Sulfate was given without an order, or was not administered within the prescribed parameters. These failures resulted in five suspicious deaths" from April 2, 2006 to Sept. 18, 2006.

Himebaugh's attorney, Sam Amirante, was not available for comment Wednesday. He previously has said his client is not guilty.

According to the report, co-workers at the Woodstock Residence began voicing their concerns about the nurse's actions as early as April 2006, more than six months before she was removed from duty in the wake of a state police probe.

When a nurse expressed concerns to the home's director of nursing, the report states, the response was a giggle.

"(The director) then went to E14 and said, 'I do not care if you play the angel of death, just don't let me know about it'," a nurse told investigators, according to the report.

The indictment against Whitlock, 58, claims she made the "angel of death" remark to Himebaugh.

Whitlock's attorney, Nils Von Keudell, declined to comment Wednesday.

At least three nurses interviewed by state police said patients who normally were restless or agitated "were usually observed quiet or sedated after E14's shift," the report states.

One told investigators that E14 often told staff members she gave difficult patients a medication cocktail so that she could have a quiet shift, the report says.

Another nurse, according to the report, told police patients "who were trouble with behavior and extra work always seemed to be the ones dying in the facility."

One of the patients whose death was part of the investigation was a 78-year-old woman who was easily agitated and would often hit people, the report states.

A nurse told police that on Sept. 9, 2006, E14 told her she had given the woman morphine and that "she is going to die within a half-hour."

Other workers later heard E14 saying: "I can't believe she's still alive with all the morphine I've given her," reports state.

The woman died the next day after receiving another dose of morphine from E14, according to the report.

Reports state another female patient died April 8, 2006 after receiving morphine from E14. A co-worker told investigators E14 told her: "She won't make it through the day. I took care of that."

Nichole Owens, criminal chief for the McHenry County State's Attorney's office, said she could not comment on the state report Wednesday because of the pending cases against Himebaugh and Whitlock.

State's Attorney Louis Bianchi previously said his office charged the women based on what his office believed it could prove beyond a reasonable doubt.