A former intensive care nurse at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville has agreed to plead guilty to five counts of neglect in connection with the deaths of five of her patients in 2002 and 2003, according to documents filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Coleen M. Thompson, 35, is scheduled to plead guilty to second-degree abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult, a misdemeanor, on Dec. 13, court documents show. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail, but prosecutors have agreed as part of the plea deal not to seek consecutive sentences.
The five victims listed in court documents are: Harry L. Hancock, 69; Geraldine Baxter, 68; Lillian Vanzandt, 83; Raymond H. McGivern, 86, and Adele Urbina, whose age could not be determined yesterday.
Hancock died July 5, 2003, five days short of his 70th birthday, while at Shady Grove. Hancock, the father of two children and grandfather of four, had been in the hospital for weeks after suffering a heart attack and pancreatitis, his wife, Diana, said yesterday. Doctors said her husband's chances of surviving were "not good," she said.
Court documents do not specify what actions Thompson took in Hancock's case or the others, and law enforcement officials would not detail the allegations because the case is still pending. State law defines neglect in the context of the charges against Thompson as "the intentional failure to prove necessary assistance and resources for the physical needs of a vulnerable adult."
Diana Hancock said she believes Thompson's actions led to the early death of her husband.
"She really had no right to do this, not then," Hancock said yesterday. "It wasn't her say to pull the plug. The doctor needed to be there and apparently wasn't."
Thompson's attorney, Philip H. Armstrong, did not return two phone calls to his Rockville office yesterday seeking comment.
Maryland's nursing board suspended Thompson's nursing license in July 2003, and she was fired from her job at Shady Grove several weeks later.
Elizabeth A. Robinson, 33, whose father died while in Thompson's care, said she and her family believe that Thompson purposely hastened her father's death. They filed a wrongful death suit against Thompson in July 2003.
On Oct. 22, 2002, John Lieb, a cinematographer and District native, was admitted to Shady Grove in critical condition with a bowel obstruction. Surgical complications forced doctors to put him on a respirator.
After a few days, Lieb was able to open his eyes and appeared responsive to family members at his bedside, Robinson said. His condition was critical but stable when, four days later, Thompson was assigned to care for Lieb.
More so than previous nurses, Thompson engaged family members in a personal manner and endeared herself to them, talking about her own life since returning from maternity leave recently and her two young sons, Robinson said.
"She talked about everything, nonstop," Robinson said.
On Oct. 27, Thompson told family members that Lieb's condition had taken a grave turn, and she pressed them to decide whether to remove him from the respirator and let him die.
They agreed to remove the respirator. They also agreed that he should receive morphine in gradual doses to ease his pain as he died. They expected his death to be gradual, Robinson said.
But Lieb, 58, died almost immediately after Thompson injected him with morphine in a fashion Thompson later admitted varied from the doctor's orders.
"His neck started to shrink, he turned all different colors, and he started squeezing my hand so hard it hurt," Robinson recalled.
Thompson, in a deposition for the Lieb case, admitted giving slightly more than the doctor ordered and administering the dose intravenously with a syringe in one dose, known as a "push." But she also suggested that neither step was unusual.
Thompson said in the deposition that she attended high school in the area, graduating in 1986.
She received a four-year degree in hospitality management from Florida International University before returning to Montgomery County to work for the public schools for several years.
She earned a two-year associate's degree in nursing at Montgomery College and became a registered nurse in 1999.