Nurse charged practicing medicine without a license – potential 1-5 yrs & $10,000 fine if found guilty

‘Brazen’ Facebook post leads to charges for nurse after COVID-19 patient’s death

https://www.indystar.com/story/news/investigations/2021/03/26/wedgewood-urse-charged-after-removing-oxygen-covid-patient/7010825002/

The nurse who is accused of removing the oxygen from a nursing home resident who died hours later has been charged with a felony.

Connie Sneed, 52, has been charged by the Clark County Prosecutor with practicing medicine without a license, a Level 5 felony. A Level 5 felony in Indiana carries a potential penalty of one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Reached by telephone Friday morning, Sneed said, “I have no comment.” She said she has an attorney, but would not provide a name. Online court records don’t list an attorney representing her, either.

Sneed is a licensed practical nurse with an active license, according to the state’s online licensing database.

Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to a probable cause affidavit filed on Thursday, a registered nurse at Wedgewood contacted the facility’s executive director about a “brazen” Facebook post written by Sneed:

“I just want y’all to know the hardest thing I’ve ever done in 28 years start a patient on O2 for 4 days 12 LPM. with a non-rebreather mask,” she wrote, describing the oxygen treatment of the resident. “I asked him on day 4 if he’s tired he said yes I said do you want me to take all this off for you and let you go and fly with the angels and he said yes.”

Sneed’s actions prompted an investigation by the Indiana Department of Health and the Office of the Attorney General. According to the health inspector’s documents, Sneed unhooked the oxygen from a resident of Wedgewood Healthcare, a nursing home in Clarksville. The man died hours later.

A probable cause affidavit identifies the resident as James Godrey, 72, who was admitted to Wedgewood on March 13, 2020. His medical conditions included dementia, a history of muscle weakness, difficulty walking and occasional depression. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on April 26.

Attempts to reach Godrey’s family on Friday were unsuccessful.

Sneed told investigators that Godfrey’s oxygen level was at 64% when she decided to start him on oxygen without a doctor’s order. A healthy oxygen level is between 95% and 100%.

The health department report says a daughter was interviewed May 6 and indicated she started receiving calls the night of April 27 letting her know her father’s condition was declining. Sneed told the woman her father would not keep his mask on. The reports says the daughter talked with her father on a video call, asking him to keep on the mask and “he nodded his head up and down.”

The daughter, according  to her account in the report, told Sneed “she could remove it, but try to put it back on him later when he calmed down.” On the following night, April 28, the daughter was “snuck” into the nursing home to see her father. “He had the mask in place, and was barely opening his eyes,” she said, according to the report. “She asked him to keep the mask on.

After the woman left, she said Sneed called again and said her father was not doing well. “The nurse told her if they sent him out to the hospital they would just be doing the same things they were already doing at the facility, so the family member told them to let him stay there and not send him out,” the report said.

The next call the daughter received was on April 30 from a different nurse. The report said the daughter was told her father had passed away at 8:52 a.m.

Sneed was fired from Wedgewood on May 6 after an admitting to superiors that she had not contacted Godfrey’s doctor when his oxygen levels began to decline days before his death, according to the affidavit.

In a May 6 interview with state health inspectors, Sneed confirmedthat she had removed the resident’s oxygen. She said that she’d had a “terrible” week and was caring for more than 40 COVID-19 patients at the facility when she forgot to notify the resident’s physician of his decline.

An excerpt of the Indiana Department of Health inspection report dated May 12, 2020. The report says the man died nearly eight hours after the nurse removed his oxygen.

Sneed also told inspectors that the resident’s daughter had told her “if it was her father’s wishes she could remove the mask.”

Wedgewood’s executive director Scott Steward determined that Sneed had not obtained a doctor’s order to administer oxygen nor to later remove the oxygen supply. 

Sneed did not try to hide her actions. In addition to her Facebook post and admission to health inspectors, Sneed told Teresa Trussel, an incoming nurse, during shift change that she had removed the oxygen and that the family had agreed to her doing so. Trussel assumed Sneed had obtained an order to administer and remove oxygen. Another employee that is not named in the affidavit said that Sneed also wrote a detailed statement about her actions in Godfrey’s chart.

Neither the family nor the facility was aware of Sneed’s actions until she posted about them on social media.

On Friday, attorney general spokeswoman Lauren Houck told IndyStar that her office had received a complaint that resulted in an investigation into the allegations made against the Wedgewood nursing home.

“We presented our findings to the Clark County Prosecutor and charges were filed as a result,” she said in an email.

Wedgewood was among the facilities hit particularly hard by the virus. At least 70 residents have contracted the coronavirus, and 20 have died at the 124-bed facility owned by Columbus Regional Hospital.

Going into the pandemic, Wedgewood had the lowest possible staffing rating from federal regulators – “much below average” – and was in the bottom 15% for total staffing nationally.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services currently rates the facility one star for its overall and health ratings and two stars for staffing. The number of health citations at the facility — 37 citations — is far above both the state average of 9.4 and the national average of 8.1.

Beth DeFalco, a spokeswoman for Communicare, the company that manages Wedgewood Healthcare, did not respond Friday to the charges filed against Sneed. She previously defended the care at Wedgewood in an emailed statement.

“Communicare staff have worked tirelessly to care for our residents during this global pandemic and we have followed all state and federal safety guidelines,” she said, although several Indiana facilities managed by the company were cited for violations last year. She also said that “nursing homes are being held to a higher scrutiny than hospitals and ERs.”

Emily Hopkins is a data reporter for IndyStar’s investigative team. Reach them at 317-444-6409 or emily.hopkins@indystar.com.

Contact Tim Evans at 317-444-6204 or tim.evans@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @starwatchtim.

 

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