UPDATE:Hospice employees indicted

By HOLBROOK MOHR
The Associated Press

JACKSON – Two employees of a NeMiss hospice have been indicted over allegations related to the care of patients following a lengthy investigation into suspicious deaths.

Dr. Paul White, the medical director of Sanctuary Hospice House in Tupelo, and Marilyn Lehman, the facility's clinical director, were charged in a 33-count indictment that includes charges of neglect and practicing medicine without a license.

“We are absolutely emphatic in saying that when this case is tried before a jury of our peers and with presentation of all the evidence that the Sanctuary Hospice House staff members will be exonerated of these charges,” Lauren Patterson, the chairwoman of the hospice's board of directors, said in a statement.

Sources close to the investigation told The Associated Press last month that a grand jury heard testimony over 11 suspicious deaths at the facility. Relatives of some people who died at the hospice said they believed their loved ones were intentionally given lethal doses of morphine or other powerful medications.

Attorneys for White and Lehman did immediately respond to messages left by The Associated Press.

The attorney general's office would not comment specifically on the matter.

“Rules of court limit our comment,” spokeswoman Jan Schaefer said. “The indictment speaks for itself.”

White was charged with 11 counts of misdemeanor neglect of a vulnerable adult and 11 counts of aiding and abetting the practice of medicine without a license.

White allowed Lehman and other nurses to determine doses, write orders for and administer narcotics when the nurses were not licensed to do so, according to the indictment. White also allegedly backdated orders that had been written by the nurses.

Lehman was charged with 11 counts of practicing medicine without a license for writing orders without being a physician and administering narcotics, the indictment says.

“We do not know what precipitated the investigation, but we are confident that the quality of care we provide at Sanctuary Hospice House is the best available both from our professional staff members and our volunteers,” Patterson said.

Relatives of several people who died at the hospice declined to discuss the matter on the record for fear of violating a court order, but they were not pleased with the outcome of the investigation.

The facility is located on Mississippi Highway 6 in Tupelo and can house up to 16 patients, according to its Web site. It opened in 2005 to widespread fanfare and expectations that it would become a model for other communities.

- Click here to read Sanctuary Hospice House statement.