CLARKSVILLE — A nurse has been charged with a felony after investigators say she started and later removed oxygen from a nursing home resident with COVID-19, without a doctor’s permission.
Connie E. Sneed, 52, is facing a level 5 felony for practicing medicine without a license related to 72-year-old James Godfrey, a resident of Wedgewood Healthcare Center who died at the facility in April. The charge was filed Thursday and a summons issued for Sneed to appear in court.
The investigation began several days after Godfrey died at the facility April 30, when administration learned of a social media post Sneed had made, according to a report completed by the Indiana Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“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 and I asked him on day 4 if he’s tired and he said yes I said do you want me to take this all off for you and let you go and fly with the angels and he said yes,” the May 1, 2020, social media post read, according to the report. “I took it all off for him I went in the hallway and cried and I let him go he passed away 1 hour and 45 minutes after I left.”
Court records show Godfrey had been admitted March 13, 2020, to Wedgewood, a 124-bed facility that provides short-term recovery, senior rehabilitation and long-term care services. His patient information showed he had dementia and difficulty walking, and a Do Not Resuscitate form was on file.
On April 26, Godfrey was diagnosed with COVID-19 and soon after his health began to rapidly decline, records show.
The state report indicates that Sneed checked Godfrey’s oxygen level on April 28 and found it to be at 64% — much lower than the acceptable range of 90% or above. Records show she started him on oxygen — without orders or permission from the facility’s physician. She later increased the oxygen, which showed improvement, but the man still had labored breathing and his oxygen later fell despite the supplemental air.
Sneed’s notes from 1 a.m. April 30 reflect that she removed the oxygen.
“The resident appeared to be weak and tired,” according to Sneed’s notes. “The nurse asked the resident if he was tired of fighting, and if he wanted to ‘let go and go to heaven.’” When the resident indicated he did, the supplemental oxygen was removed, according to her notes.
A nurse who came on shift after Sneed said the defendant had told her she had removed the oxygen and that the family was in agreement with that. That second nurse checked on him several times throughout the night and found him deceased at 8:45 a.m., just under eight hours after the oxygen had been removed.
Sneed’s employment was terminated May 6, when it was determined she had violated Wedgewood’s policy and standard nursing practice by both administering and then removing the oxygen. She had worked there 15 years.
The incident happened within days of the facility experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 cases; on April 27, the News and Tribune reported that more than 40 new cases had been identified for a total of 65. The state report reflects that Sneed said she had been working very long hours caring for dozens of COVID patients, which led to her failure to consult with the doctor about her actions.
Clarksville Police initially began an investigation May 4 and two days later began the process of referring the case to the Indiana Attorney General’s office, which has more resources in investigating cases involving health care and medication.
Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull confirmed he received a report from the Indiana Attorney General’s office last week, which resulted in the charge filed Thursday.
“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 told the News and Tribune.
“Those types of decisions that may result in the death of a patient have to be supervised by a physician under Indiana law, and the allegation is that this nurse did not follow that protocol. I think it’s important that when people have loved ones in the hospital or in a care facility that they have confidence that proper authorizations are going to be obtained before very serious treatments are given or discontinued.”
However, Mull said the complex nature of the case — including that the man had a serious case of COVID-19 and was not expected to recover and that his family had expressed a desire for him not to be transferred to the hospital but to be kept comfortable at the facility — made the level 5 charge appropriate rather than one alleging Sneed directly caused his death.
State licensing information shows Sneed received accreditation in 1992, and that her license is still active. It expires in October 2022.