A former hospital worker in Missouri was charged this month with the murder of a patient who died under his care two decades ago.
According to Livingston County Prosecutor Adam Warren, 41-year-old Jennifer Anne Hall is accused of using a muscle relaxant and a lethal dose of morphine to kill 75-year-old Fern Franco at Heydrick Medical Center in 2002.
Hall worked as a respiratory therapist at the medical center for five months from 2001 to 2002—and during that short stint, the number of patients suffering sudden cardiac arrest at a rural Missouri hospital skyrocketed.
According to one investigator, the hospital experienced 18 “code blue” incidents of sudden cardiac arrest during Hall’s employment, compared with an average of one per year.
Franco, who was among the “code blue” patients, died in a hospital bed. Eight others, including patients aged 49 and 37, also died, while another nine survived.
According to a probable cause statement written by Chillicoth Officer Brian Schmidt, Franco was being treated for pneumonia at the time and suffered a “horrific death from suffocation” while fully conscious.
“Hall’s victim was a sick, defenseless, elderly woman who relied on Hall to care for physical illness within a medical facility,” Schmidt wrote.
County coroner Scott Lindley said hospital officials at the time were alerted to concerns that Hall might have been involved in a striking uptick in sudden cardiac arrest, but “did everything in the world to cover it”.
The hospital fired Hall after five months, not because of a suspected increase in cardiac deaths, but because administrators learned of a prior arson conviction, according to his lawyer. Hall was found guilty of setting fire to another small hospital where he had previously worked. He was acquitted of the crime in a trial in 2005 after spending a year behind bars.
The criminal investigation into the patient’s death did not begin until two years after Warren was elected prosecutor in 2010.
Relatives of five patients who died sought justice through a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and its new parent company, St. Luke’s Health System, in 2010. However, it was filed after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the statute of limitations expired and the lawsuit was thrown out in 2019.
Franco’s 44-year-old granddaughter, April Franco, said she hoped her grandmother’s case would help close all the families who had lost loved ones.
“Just for the sake of other families,” said Franco of Kansas City, Missouri. “They have been waiting for 20 years for an answer. It is up to my grandmother’s case to find the answer for her.”
Hall pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder on Thursday and was jailed without bond.
It is not clear whether he will face additional manslaughter charges in relation to other patients who experienced cardiac arrest under his care. Another eight patients died of natural causes at that time.
Hall’s attorney, Matt O’Connor, said his client was innocent. He said he didn’t have access to the drugs that killed Franco or any of the drugs in his role as a respiratory doctor.
post with wires