Hospital worker charged with murdering patient 20 years after spate of deaths

Court papers state that nine patients died during incidents the respiratory therapist reported at Hedrick Medical Center

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Thursday 19 May 2022 21:13

A Missouri hospital worker has been charged with murder of a patient that allegedly took place amid a string of deaths 20 years ago.

Former respiratory therapist Jennifer Ann Hall was arrested in Kansas and charged over the death of Fern Franco, who was found unresponsive in her hospital bed on 18 May 2002.

Officials say that Ms Hall worked at Hedrick Medical Center from December 2001 to May 2002, and that while there the facility’s rate of cardiac collapse incidents “rose alarmingly.”

Investigators say that during her year at the hospital there were 18 such incidents, compared to its average of one per year.

Court documents state that of those 18 cases nine patients died, with the death rate dropping after she was placed on administrative leave.

The documents also state that other nurses believed Ms Hall was responsible for the deaths because of her proximity to the patients, her access to drugs and because she was involved in reporting each of the deaths, reports WDAF.

A probable cause document states that an autopsy on Franco revealed the presence of succinylcholine and morphine, “two substances which medical records revealed were not prescribed to Ms Franco or ordered by her doctors.”

A Chillicothe police officer stated that “Hall’s victim was a sick, defenseless, elderly woman who was depending on Hall to care for her physical ailment within a medical facility. The substance Hall used to brutally take Fern Franco’s life, succinylcholine, paralyzes the victim’s muscles, including the diaphragm, causing the victim to suffer a ghastly death from suffocation while still maintaining full consciousness and awareness that they are unable to breathe. Morphine also acts to suppress respiration and is not given to pneumonia patients for that reason.”

Ms Hall pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder when she appeared in court on Thursday. A bail hearing is set for 27 May.

Her attorney, Matthew O’Connor, said he had been in talks to allow his client to turn herself in when she was arrested.

He has previously stated that there is no evidence connecting her with Ms Franco’s death.

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