State Police today exhumed the body of a 91-year-old former patient of a Worcester County nursing home in an investigation into possible misuse of a morphine-based painkiller.
State Police Lt. Richard H. McGee said the woman's body was sent to the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore for an autopsy to determine whether she was given the drug, called Roxanol.
"We don't want people to overreact," Lieutenant McGee said. "This may be an isolated incident."
State Police were notified by the 69-bed Hartley Hall nursing home in Pocomoke City this month that a partially filled 1-ounce bottle of the drug was not stored in a locked cabinet as required. Police are trying to determine whether the patient may have been intentionally given a lethal amount of it.
Lieutenant McGee identified the woman as Maidie Shay, a former Virginia resident, who died Jan. 29. A nursing home doctor listed the cause of death as respiratory failure brought on by pneumonia.
"We're trying to keep this as low-key as possible but still do a professional job," Lieutenant McGee said.
Louis Huber, president of Housing and Health Services Inc. in Baltimore, which manages Hartley Hall, said nursing home officials have "cooperated totally."
Mr. Huber said authorities exhumed Mrs. Shay's body because her death coincided with the alleged misuse of Roxanol.
The home's director of nursing resigned two weeks ago, and Mr. Huber said her resignation was "directly related" to the investigation. But he said that did not mean the woman was involved in the alleged misuse of the drug.
Three other staff members have been placed on administrative leave, he said.