CHILLING new details have emerged following the deaths of nine people at same the rural Missouri hospital after police arrested a former worker.
Jennifer Anne Hall now faces first degree murder charges in one of the deaths at Hedrick Medical Center — that of 75-year-old Fern Franco.
Hall was a respiratory therapist during a five month period during which the hospital experienced 18 “code blue” incidents.
That marked an alarming increase in sudden cardiac arrest events for a center that historically averaged one of them a year, according to one police investigator.
Nine patients died and nine recovered.
Now prosecutors say one of those, named as Franco, died of lethal doses of succinylcholine — a relaxant that paralyzes the respiratory muscles — and the pain reliever morphine.
Livingston County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Warren did not disclose a possible motive or say why the investigation took a decade.
It’s unclear if Hall will face additional murder charges in the 2002 deaths at Hedrick.
Warren declined interview requests, and Livingston County Sheriff Steve Cox did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.
But her lawyer, Matt O’Connor, said she is innocent of the murder charge she does face.
He claims she would not have had access to succinylcholine, morphine or any other drugs.
The attorney has said Hall became a scapegoat for the deaths at Hedrick because of an arson conviction at another hospital that she was cleared of in 2005.
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Aprille Franco, Franco’s granddaughter, hopes investigators get to the bottom of the other deaths.
“Just for the other families’ sake,” Franco, 44, of Kansas City, Missouri, said.
“They’ve been waiting 20 years for answers. It’s up to my grandma’s case to find answers for them.”
Hall, 41, pleaded not guilty Thursday and is jailed without bond.
She began working at Hedrick in December 2001.
Hospital officials are said to have been alerted to the concerns about Hall but “did everything in the world to cover it up” to avoid bad publicity, said Scott Lindley, the county coroner.
No criminal investigation was launched at the time.
A wrongful-death lawsuit naming the hospital and the company that now operates it, St. Luke’s Health System, was filed in 2010 on behalf of relatives of five patients who died.
The Missouri Supreme Court tossed the lawsuit in 2019, ruling it was filed after the statute of limitations had run out.
St. Luke’s Health System noted in a statement that it took over operation of Hedrick more than a year after the deaths.
“We, too, are only interested in the truth, and look forward to a final resolution of the investigation,” the statement read.
The deaths involved people of varying ages and levels of health.
Hall was placed on administrative leave three days after Franco’s death and the code blue incidents “returned to historical frequency,” Schmidt’s report stated.
She was fired months later, but not because of the patient deaths.
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O’Connor said she was fired after hospital officials learned she had been convicted of an arson fire at another small Missouri hospital, Cass Regional Medical Center in Harrisonville, where she previously worked.
She was free on appeal when she took the job in Chillicothe and later spent a year behind bars before being acquitted at a retrial.