An ex-hospital worker in Missouri was charged this month with the murder of a patient who died two decades ago under her care.
Jennifer Anne Hall, 41, is accused of using a deadly dose of a muscle relaxant and morphine to kill 75-year-old Fern Franco at Hedrick Medical Center in 2002, according to Livingston County Prosecutor Adam Warren.
Hall worked as a respiratory therapist at the medical center for five months from 2001 to 2002 — and during that short stint, the rural Missouri hospital saw the number of patients suffering sudden cardiac arrests skyrocket.
The hospital experienced 18 “code blue” incidents of sudden cardiac arrests during Hall’s employment, compared to an average of one per year, according to an investigator.
Franco, who was among the “code blue” patients, died in her hospital bed. Eight others, including patients as young as 49 and 37, also died, while another nine survived.
Hall was being treated for pneumonia at the time and suffered a “ghastly death from suffocation” while fully conscious, according to a probable cause statement written by Chillicothe Officer Brian Schmidt.
“Hall’s victim was a sick, defenseless, elderly woman who was depending on Hall to care for physical ailment within a medical facility,” Schmidt wrote.
Hospital officials at the time were alerted to concerns that Hall may be involved in the striking uptick in sudden cardiac arrests, but “did everything in the world to cover it up” to avoid bad publicity, county coroner Scott Lindley said.
The hospital fired Hall after five months, not because of the suspicious rise in cardiac deaths, but because administrators learned of a prior arson conviction, according to her attorney. Hall was found guilty of starting a fire at another small hospital where she previously worked. She was acquitted of the crime at a retrial in 2005 after spending a year behind bars.
Criminal investigations into the patient deaths weren’t launched until two years after Warren was elected prosecutor in 2010.
Relatives of five of the patients who died sought justice themselves in 2010 through a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and its new parent company, St. Luke’s Health System. However, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that it was filed after the statute of limitations was up and tossed the suit in 2019.
Franco’s 44-year-old granddaughter, Aprille Franco, said she hopes her grandmother’s case will help bring closure to all the families who lost loved ones.
“Just for the other families’ sake,” Franco 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 pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder Thursday and has been jailed without bond.
It’s unclear if she will face additional murder charges in relation to the other patients who experienced cardiac arrest under her care. The other eight patients’ deaths were deemed to be from natural causes at the time.
Hall’s attorney Matt O’Connor said his client is innocent. He said she didn’t have access to the drugs that killed Franco or any drugs in her role as a respiratory therapist.
With Post wires