Defense seeks info in Sanctuary death cases

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Hearings are scheduled soon in four Circuit Court lawsuits alleging wrongful deaths at Sanctuary Hospice House.
The lawsuits stem from a 2008 attorney general’s office investigation into multiple deaths at the Tupelo facility.
Subsequently, a Lee County grand jury indicted Dr. Paul White, then Sanctuary’s medical director, and nurse Marilyn Lehman, then its clinical director, on misdemeanor charges. They pleaded guilty and were fined.
The hearings were requested by the defendants to ask the court to compel the people who brought the lawsuits to present more specific information about their claims, said L.F. “Sandy” Sams Jr. of Tupelo, one of the defense attorneys.
These cases were filed in August and follow nearly identical claims against White, Lehman and the hospice, although details differ about the individuals who died there:
– Annie Myrtle Higdon – The lawsuit was filed by her daughter, Willie Jean Cox Bennett.
Mrs. Higdon, 79, died Oct. 24, 2006, six days after she was admitted to Sanctuary with a history of strokes. The lawsuit claims she died of a narcotic overdose.
– Jimmy Steven Fowler – The lawsuit is brought by his son, Jimmy S. Fowler Jr.
Fowler, 64, died Jan. 31, 2007, about four months after his admission to Sanctuary with congestive heart failure. The lawsuit claims he died from “vast quantities” of morphine and “slow suffocation” after withdrawal from medication for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
– Odie Francis Wilson – The lawsuit is brought by her son, Jimmy Smith.
Wilson, 83, died nine days after her Sept. 28, 2006, admission to Sanctuary from alleged narcotic overdose and lack of prescribed heart medications.
– Roy Douglas Brown – The lawsuit was filed by his brother, William Brown.
Roy Brown, 63, died May 20, 2006, about four days after admission to Sanctuary with COPD. The lawsuit claims he died from “narcotic toxicity” and withdrawal from COPD medications.
Sams said the defendants deny the allegations.
All four lawsuits allege their family members were not seen by a physician during their stay and suffered because of “medical negligence.”
Hearings are scheduled for Friday in Lee County for Wilson, Monday in Prentiss County for Higdon and Brown, and Jan. 20 in Pontotoc County for Fowler.
Another lawsuit brought by daughters of the late Esther Evans makes similar allegations. Pre-trial work continues on it, said plaintiffs’ attorney Casey Lott of Booneville.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.