Stay lifted on lawsuit against Sanctuary Hospice, officials

OXFORD – A wrongful death lawsuit may resume by survivors of two former Sanctuary Hospice House patients.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 18, was halted Feb. 2 by U.S. Magistrate S. Allan Alexander while state accusations were unresolved against Marilyn Lehman, Sanctuary’s former clinical director.
Lehman’s qualified guilty plea last week freed the federal court to move ahead, by completing the criminal investigation of 11 deaths at the Tupelo facility.
Lehman pleaded guilty to two counts of practicing medicine without a license and was ordered to pay a fine.
Last fall, Dr. J. Paul White, then Sanctuary’s medical director, was fined and put on probation after a guilty plea to six misdemeanor counts of aiding and abetting nurses who were not licensed to administer narcotics to patients.
The wrongful death lawsuit appears to be the only federal action brought against the pair and the hospice surrounding the deaths considered in an April 2008 indictment by a Lee County grand jury.
A similar Circuit Court lawsuit by Evans’ heirs also was put on hold by the criminal cases. It’s unclear how or if that case will proceed.
Initially, state investigators wanted felony charges of depraved heart murder or manslaughter by culpable negligence, alleging White and Lehman supervised the deaths by chemical overdoses. But the grand jury refused and settled on misdemeanors.
In the seven-page federal complaint, plaintiffs Rebecca Dillard and Faye McLain of Georgia, children of Sanctuary patient Esther Evans, claim White, Lehman, Sanctuary and others are responsible “in some manner” for their mother’s death.
The defendants deny the allegations.
The plaintiffs also claim that between Evans’ admission Sept. 16, 2006, until her death five days later, she was administered excessive doses of morphine, Darvocet, Thera-Gesic and Ativan.
“Esther Evans’ suffering and death was the direct and proximate result of negligence on the part of defendants,” the sisters claim through their attorney, Casey Langston Lott of Booneville.
They do not state damages sought, only that it exceeds $75,000.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.

Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal