As if anyone needed reminding that healthcare workers can use their skill to kill as well as heal, the bizarre case of Texas nurse Genene Jones has surfaced again in the American media.
Ms Jones was convicted in 1984 of murdering one infant with a muscle relaxant and of harming another with a blood thinning agent. She was sentenced to concurrent 99 and 60 year terms behind bars. However, she is due to be released next March under a mandatory release law, which has alarmed the relatives of her victims.
Last week the Bexar County district attorney announced that she would be charged with another death – an infant injected with an anti-seizure drug.
The DA’s office says that Ms Jones is suspected of having killed as many as 60 infants between 1977 and 1982. But proving this has been difficult. Medical records at the San Antonio hospital were accidentally destroyed. Memories have faded; potential witnesses have died.
Apart from the lurid headlines about a baby-killer, the case provides an example of how not to deal with suspicions. According to journalist Peter Elkind, who wrote a book about Genene Jones, her shifts at Bexar County Hospital were called “the Death Shift” because so many children sickened and died when she was working there. Her bosses wanted to get rid of her, even though they had no proof. They found a way: they reshuffled the deck and they lied.
But in the midst of an image makeover for the old charity hospital — it was being renamed Medical Center Hospital — they were unwilling to alert the authorities, fearing bad publicity and lawsuits. So instead of simply firing Jones outright, they replaced all seven LVNs [Licensed Vocational Nurse] in the ICU in March 1982, under the cover of upgrading the unit to an all-RN staff. While they privately celebrated Jones’ departure, hospital officials presented her with a warm letter of recommendation, calling her “loyal, dependable, and trustworthy” and “an asset to the Bexar County Hospital District.” The letter added: “This move in no way reflects on her performance in the unit.”
Jones moved on to a new paediatric clinic in a small town nearby, Kerrville. Children started getting sick there, too, and one died. She was convicted of this death. But even after her dubious behaviour in Kerrville, in the absence of proven wrong-doing, hospital administrators and medical school officials maintained a “judicious silence” to avoid bad publicity and lawsuits.
Jones will probably die in jail, although she has consistently denied killing any children. “I don’t want her stepping out onto free soil,” says the district attorney Nicolas LaHood. “My goal is not to leave one baby behind. In a perfect world, we believe she’d be held accountable for every baby we believe she stole from their families.”
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