Morphine overdose ruled as a homicide

The family of Florence Pierpoint, a 79-year old nursing home patient who was killed while in the care of a Tacoma nursing home, filed a lawsuit after a medical examiner ruled her death a homicide caused by a morphine overdose.

The complaint  includes charges that the facility’s staff failed to administer medications according to the physician’s orders and neglected to monitor Pierpoint’s condition.

Pierpoint was transported to the facility after returning from a stay at a local hospital where she was treated for pneumonia she acquired in the nursing home.

On November 2, 2004, records show a sudden and drastic decline in Pierpoint’s condition, noting confusion and disorientation. The nursing home’s response was to administer additional doses of morphine and Xanax, a powerful anti-anxiety drug.  Later that day, Nisqually staff reported that Pierpoint was becoming increasingly restless and they administered additional morphine.

“I noticed my mom’s dramatic slide, from awake and aware to nearly comatose,” said Linda Fox, Pierpoint’s daughter. “I raised these issues with Nisqually’s staff, but they chose to ignore my pleas.”

Pierpoint died less than one hour after the additional morphine was administered.

“Florence’s family is adamant that the nursing home and the responsible staff be held accountable for their actions,” Meyers said. “Their deepest fear is that other patients could be at risk.”

An autopsy by the chief Pierce County medical examiner, John Howard, M.D., ruled that Pierpoint died of “acute morphine poisoning.” In his declaration, Howard states that “there is no indication in the patient’s record that the level and dosage and frequency of administration, sometimes on the hour, was justified.” Howard classified the death as a homicide.

Howard goes on to note that two of the symptoms of morphine poisoning are restlessness and agitation.

“We intend to prove to a jury that Nisqually failed to follow the physician’s instructions when caring for Florence,” said Ron Meyers, co-counsel representing the family. “We will show that when she began showing symptoms of morphine poisoning, they did exactly the wrong thing – they gave her one more, lethal dose.

Inspectors from the State of Washington found Nisqually in violation of state and federal regulations regarding quality of care in this case.

Soundcare Inc. operates four facilities in Washington, including Bridgeport Place Assisted Living and University Place Care Center, both in Tacoma, Wash., Messenger House Care Center in Bainbridge, Wash. and Nisqually Valley Care Center and Nisqually Valley Residential Care in McKenna, Wash.