A former hospital worker in Missouri has been charged with the murder of a patient who died while caring for him 20 years ago.
Jennifer Ann Hall, 41, allegedly used a muscle relaxant and a lethal dose of morphine to kill 75-year-old Fern Franco at Heidrick Medical Center in 2002, Livingston County Prosecutor Adam Warren announced.
He has worked as a respiratory therapist at a medical center for five months, and in that short time, the number of patients with sudden cardiac arrest at a rural Missouri hospital has increased, the New York Post reported.
One investigator said there were 18 “Code Blue” incidents of sudden cardiac arrest at the hospital while Hall was employed, an average of one each year.
Franco was among the “Code Blue” patients who died in his hospital bed. Eight more died, including 49 and 37-year-old patients, and nine survived.
Franco was hospitalized for pneumonia at the time and suffered “horrific death by suffocation” when he was fully conscious.
“Hall’s victim was a sick, defenseless, elderly woman who was relying on Hall to take care of her physical illness in a medical facility,” wrote Chilicoth Officer Brian Schmidt.
Hospital officials were aware of concerns at the time that Hall might be involved in a wave of sudden cardiac arrests, but “everything in the world has done to cover it up” to avoid bad publicity, said County Coroner Scott Lindley.
But because he was not released, the hospital was disbanded after administrators previously found him guilty of arson. He was convicted of setting fire to another small hospital where he had previously worked but was acquitted in 2005.
The investigation into the patient’s death did not begin until two years after Warren was elected prosecutor in 2010.
Relatives of five of the dead patients filed a lawsuit in 2010 against the hospital and its new parent company, St. Luke’s Health System, for unnatural death. However, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that it was filed after the restraining order was passed and dropped the case in 2019.
Aprilo Franco, Franco’s 44-year-old granddaughter, said she hopes her grandmother’s lawsuit will help close other families who have lost loved ones.
“Just for another family,” said Franco of Kansas City, Missouri. “They have been waiting 20 years for the answer. Finding answers for them is my grandmother’s business.
Hall pleaded not guilty Thursday to first-degree murder and was sent to prison without bail.