(via News and Tribune)
An Indiana nurse charged with practicing medicine without a license for removing a COVID-19 patient’s oxygen mask hours before his death has pleaded guilty.
54-year-old Connie Sneed, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) from New Albany, Indiana, pleaded guilty to the felony charge of practicing medicine without a license on April 13, 2023. Under the plea deal, she will serve no jail time, instead receiving a sentence of 540 days of probation.
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Sneed was working as an LPN at Wedgewood Healthcare Center in Clarksville, Indiana at the time of the incident. She drew attention from the Indiana Department of Health and the Office of the Attorney General after making a Facebook post detailing her interaction with one of the patients in her care.”I just want y’all to know the hardest thing I’ve ever done in 28 years start a patient on O2 for 4 days 12 LPM. with a non-rebreather mask,” Sneed wrote in the Facebook post. “I asked him on day 4 if he’s tired he said yes I said do you want me to take all this off for you and let you go and fly with the angels and he said yes.”
The post continued, “I took it all off of him I went in the hallway and I cried and I let him go and he passed away … after I left.”
According to health inspector documents, Sneed proceeded to disconnect the patient from oxygen and he died approximately 8 hours later.
The patient was identified as 72-year-old James Godfrey. His medical history included dementia, muscle weakness, and depression. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on April 26, 2020, four days before his death. Medical records also indicated that Godfrey’s health was declining and that he had a Do Not Resuscitate order on file.
Sneed was fired from the facility on May 6, 2020, after Wedgewood’s executive director determined that Sneed had not obtained a doctor’s order to neither administer nor remove Godfrey’s oxygen. She had been an employee at Wedgewood for 15 years. Her nursing license was subsequently suspended in May 2021.
Sneed was initially charged with practicing medicine without a license in March 2021. In the state of Indiana, the felony charge of practicing medicine without a license can carry a penalty of up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Instead, Sneed received 540 days of probation after taking a plea deal.
A few days after Godfrey’s death, Sneed confirmed in an interview with state health inspectors that she had removed Godfrey’s oxygen. She also said that she had had a “terrible week” and was responsible for more than 40 COVID-19 patients when she forgot to notify Godfrey’s physician about his medical decline.
Sneed also told inspectors that she was given permission by the patient’s daughter to remove the patient’s oxygen mask “if it was her father’s wish”.
Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull stated that it was important to him that Sneed receive a felony conviction considering the gravity of her conduct. However, there were also many other factors that ultimately contributed to Sneed receiving no jail time, including Sneed’s belief that she was helping a suffering patient and her willingness to take responsibility for her actions.
“He [Godfrey] and/or his family had made the decision to not transport him to a hospital or to be put on a ventilator,” Mull said. “It would not be possible for me to prove a murder charge or that she knowingly or intentionally killed this gentleman because of what was going on medically in his case, but it is clear her actions were not authorized.”
“After reviewing the results of the investigation it was my conclusion that this nurse was not justified in removing this man’s oxygen without consulting with and getting the permission of the supervising physician,” Mull said in a statement.
“This case presented countervailing considerations, but at the end of the day, the evidence left me convinced that Ms. Sneed was a nurse who deeply cared for her patients, but who made a mistake in judgment that led to a very serious result,” Mull said. “I am satisfied that this particular conviction and sentence is just and fair in this case.”
Wedgewood Healthcare Statement
A spokesperson with Communicare, provided the following statement to newsandtribune.com
“As soon as we learned of the allegations against this nurse, the executive director notified health department authorities and local law enforcement,” she said in a statements. “We continue to fully cooperate with the investigation. Because there is still an active criminal investigation and because of patient privacy laws, we cannot comment further on this.”
Interactions With Patient’s Family
According to Godfrey’s daughter, who was the patient’s power of attorney, she began receiving calls on April 27th letting her know that her father’s condition was worsening. Godfrey’s daughter was told that her father refused to keep his oxygen mask on. She also stated that she spoke with her father via video call and asked him to keep his oxygen mask in place and that he nodded in response.
According to the daughter’s account, she had told Sneed that “she could remove it, but try to put it back on him later when he calmed down.” On April 28th, Godfrey’s daughter was “snuck’ into the facility in order to see her father. After leaving, the daughter said Sneed called her again to tell her that her father was not doing well.
“The nurse told her if they sent him out to the hospital they would just be doing the same things they were already doing at the facility, so the family member told them to let him stay there and not send him out,” a report said.
On April 30th, the daughter received a call from a different nurse telling her that her father had passed away.
Records also indicate that Godfrey’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Columbus Regional Hospital (the facility which owns Wedgewood Healthcare Center). The lawsuit has been settled with undisclosed terms.