Nursing boss allegedly turned blind eye to ‘Angel of Death’
BY DAN ROZEK Staff Reporter : April 20 2011
Warned that a nurse was giving excessive doses of morphine to patients, Penny Whitlock took no action — except to dub her employee the “Angel of Death,” McHenry County prosecutors said Tuesday.
Despite being nursing director, Whitlock never tried to stop Marty Himebaugh from allegedly overmedicating patients at a Woodstock nursing home, including at least one who died from a morphine overdose, prosecutors contended.
“She did nothing,” prosecutor Philip Hiscock said of Whitlock as her trial opened, claiming she 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 far 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, still is awaiting trial on charges of criminal neglect and improperly 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.
Whitlock allowed Himebaugh to give hefty doses of the powerful narcotic to control or even hasten the deaths of troublesome patients, authorities have alleged.
Nurse Lori McConnell testified she became concerned when she found a bottle of morphine “almost empty” after 78-year-old Virgina Cole died abruptly at the nursing home in September 2006.
“There was a substantial amount gone and a lot had been given to the patient,” McConnell said, recounting how she and several other nurses concerned that “inappropriate doses” were being given had marked the morphine bottles to more accurately gauge how much was being used.
After Cole’s death, McConnell said she called Whitlock to voice her suspicions.
“Nothing was done,” McConnell testified.
Nurse Eleanore LaRocco testified that hours before patient Jean Hannah died on April 8, 2006, she saw Himebaugh come out of Hannah’s 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.