Inquest re-examines morphine claims in Bodington Nursing Home death

An elderly nursing home resident may have died as a result of a morphine overdose administered by a nurse at the facility, the Coroners Court has heard.

The daughters of the dead woman believe the nurses then covered up the incident by falsifying the nursing home’s drug register.

An inquest into the death of Sybil Zimmerman heard on Monday that she died aged 84 on May 15, 2011, after spending about 12 months at the Bodington Nursing Home at Wentworth Falls.

In his opening address, counsel assisting the coroner Patrick Griffin said that shortly before her death a GP had prescribed Mrs Zimmerman small doses of morphine for pain linked to various health problems.

“There is evidence that Ms Zimmerman was shouting out and disturbing other residents and requesting that someone take action regarding her pain,” Mr Griffin said.

The inquest heard that a registered nurse, Rosemary Chapman, injected the 84-year-old with morphine a number of times over several days.When the elderly woman’s daughters 

visited her, they allegedly found her in a comatose state, with her eyes open but not responding.

Daughter Michelle Zimmerman claims the nurses refused to act at this point, stating Mrs Zimmerman was dying as a consequence of her pre-existing health problems and nothing could be done.

Michelle Zimmerman called Crime Stoppers, who arranged for an ambulance to attend. Mrs Zimmerman was taken to the Blue Mountains District Hospital, where she died a few days later.

The inquest heard that the size of the morphine doses was the central issue with regard to whether Ms Zimmerman had received “an appropriate standard of care”.

Michelle Zimmerman claims that her mother was injected with 10 milligrams of morphine, a dose that the inquest heard was not appropriate for a woman of her age and in her condition.

The nursing home denies this.

“The central issue is the amount of morphine and the mode of delivery to Mrs Zimmerman and whether this was appropriate,” Mr Griffin said.

“Michelle Zimmerman alleges that her mother died in suspicious circumstances, particularly raising the issue of morphine overdose ... she also refers to negligent homicide or involuntary euthanasia, compounded by falsification of records,” Mr Griffin said.

Michelle Zimmerman claims that the nurse Ms Chapman, later told her she should only have given Mrs Zimmerman five milligrams of morphine.

“Following on is an allegation that the drug register has been falsified to show that only five milligrams was administered,” Mr Griffin said.

This allegation is also denied by the nursing home.

The inquest heard that the matter had previously been investigated by the Health Care Complaints Commission, the Department of Aged Care and the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

While the departmental investigation found that staff at the home took insufficient steps to identify whether Mrs Zimmerman was unconscious, neither that investigation nor the other inquiries supported the claim that she died from an overdose or that this was subsequently covered up.

The hearing before deputy state coroner Hugh Dillon continues.

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