A former Lake Isabella nurse was sentenced to three years in prison for illegally sedating nursing home patients, leading to the deaths of three. The state Attorney General's Office said this is the first conviction and sentence of its kind in the nation.
Families of the patients who died said they wish the prison sentence was longer for Gwen Hughes, but after six years they're happy she was punished at all.
"It was a tough six years," said Bonnie Fieler, granddaughter of one of the patients who died under the care of Gwen Hughes.
Tears and pleas came from the family of Fannie May Brinkley as her granddaughters asked the judge for the maximum sentence.
"We all loved her dearly. She was the only grandparent we ever knew and we all trusted them," said Tammy Peters in court. Peters is the granddaughter of Brinkley.
Brinkley starved to death in December 2006 after losing her appetite as a result of being given a mood disorder drug. She was one of 23 patients at the Kern Valley Healthcare District's Skilled Nursing Facility, who were inappropriately given high doses of a sedative after they were deemed uruly or noisy.
"Whoever thinks I am going to put my loved one in this place so she can be abused?" said Patty Peters, Brinkley's granddaughter.
According to investigation documents, it was all under the direction of the facility's director of nursing, Gwen Hughes.
"She ordered this done so she has to pay the consequence," said Tammy Peters.
A judge sentenced the 59-year-old to three years in prison.
"I wish it could have been more, but we got what we could and that's all we can ask for," said Peters.
Hughes' nursing license was also revoked.
"That was the whole point of us being here today," said Fieler. "So that she can't get away with this, so she can't do it to anybody else."
The state Deputy Attorney General said this is possibly the first conviction in the nation of illegal chemical restraint in a nursing home.
"It's never a good day when someone goes to prison, but on the other hand, it's necessary to get justice for some of our most vulnerable of citizens," said Steve Muni, Deputy Attorney General.
The family is optimistic Wednesday's sentence will set a precedent.
"We didn't just do this for us. We did it hoping it can help other people and maybe prevent this from happening again," said Peters.
Hughes and her defense attorney declined to comment. There is a pending civil suit against Hughes.
A pharmacist, facility administrator and doctor have all been sentenced to probation for their involvement.