EASTON -- A Worcester County grand jury has indicted three former employees of a Pocomoke City nursing home in the death of a 91-year-old patient, who investigators think was killed with an unauthorized dose of a powerful morphine-based painkiller.
Former employees Marjorie Karen Alpaugh, 51, of Princess Anne, and Delores Lee Walker, 47, of Fruitland, were charged yesterday with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, distribution of morphine, conspiracy to distribute morphine and possession of morphine.
The third former employee, Sherrie Lee Agar, 33, of Melfa, Va., was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, distribution of morphine, conspiracy to distribute morphine and possession of morphine.
Maidie Lang Shay died Jan. 29 at Hartley Hall Nursing Home, a well-known facility for the elderly on the Lower Eastern Shore.
Ms. Alpaugh, who come to Hartley Hall less than a year ago as nursing director, has worked at similar nursing homes in the area. Ms. Walker worked there as a staff licensed practical nurse, and Ms. Agar was employed as a registered nurse.
The state medical examiner's office in Baltimore found traces of morphine in tissue samples taken from Mrs. Shay's remains after investigations by nursing home officials and police raised questions about the cause of her death.
Her remains were exhumed from a small cemetery outside Pocomoke City Feb. 20 after Hartley Hall administrators, responding to rumors that the patient had been the victim of a mercy killing, discovered prescription drugs improperly stored in the nursing home director's office.
Mrs. Shay was described as a terminally ill patient when she arrived at Hartley Hall, but was not in pain and therefore not prescribed morphine or any other painkiller, according to facility officials.
Ms. Alpaugh, who Hartley Hall officials said quit her job just hours after a search of her office turned up the drugs -- including the morphine-based Roxanol -- in a manila envelope, soon hired Salisbury lawyer James V. Anthenelli.
The Worcester County grand jury met all day Wednesday in Snow Hill before the indictments were returned.
Hartley Hall administrators invited families of patients to come to the nursing home yesterday to ask questions about the investigation, according to Louis Huber, president of Housing and Health Services Inc., the Baltimore firm that manages the 39-year-old facility.
Mr. Huber said patients and their families will meet again today to discuss the latest developments in the case.
Hartley Hall administrators, who have scheduled a news conference in Pocomoke City today, have insisted that the Shay death is an isolated case and that the home's patients have no reason to worry.