JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) — A southern Indiana nurse facing a criminal charge for allegedly removing a nursing home resident’s oxygen mask hours before his death from COVID-19 will avoid jail time under a plea bargain.
Connie Sneed, 54, of New Albany, pleaded guilty Thursday in Clark Circuit Court to a felony charge of knowingly or intentionally acting as a physician’s assistant without a license. She received a suspended sentence of 540 days.
The charge can be reduced to a misdemeanor if Sneed completes her probation successfully, court records show.
Sneed originally was charged in 2021 with practicing medicine without a license, which carried a potential penalty of one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Authorities began investigating the man’s April 2020 death at Wedgewood Healthcare Center in Clarksville after learning that Sneed wrote in a social media post that she had asked the man if he wanted her to remove his oxygen mask so he could “fly with the angels.”
In the Facebook post, Sneed called her alleged actions “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in 28 years,” an inspection report from the Indiana Department of Health showed.
The man had been struggling after days of aggressive oxygen treatment for COVID-19, investigators said. Sneed wrote in her Facebook post that she saw him repeatedly try to take off his oxygen mask when she approached him and asked if he wanted her to remove it, the report said.
Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull told The Indianapolis Star that it was important to him that Sneed be convicted of a felony because of the gravity of her actions. He said mitigating factors included Sneed’s belief that she was helping a suffering patient, her distinguished nursing record and her acceptance of responsibility.
“At the end of the day, the evidence left me convinced that Ms. Sneed was a nurse who deeply cared for her patients, but who made a mistake in judgment that led to a very serious result,” Mull said in an email to the Star.
In an interview with state health inspectors a few days after the man’s death, Sneed confirmed that she had removed his oxygen and said his daughter had told her “if it was her father’s wishes, she could remove the mask.”
A phone message seeking comment was left for Sneed’s attorney.
Sneed, who had worked at Wedgewood for 15 years, was fired May 6, 2020, when it was determined she had violated the nursing home’s policy and standard nursing practice by both administering and then removing the oxygen.
Her nursing license has been suspended since May 2021, state records show.