Patient dies from possible drug overdose, nurse charged

Janet Kupka (Source: MBPD)
Janet Kupka (Source: MBPD)
Bill Norman posing with Vanna White (Source: WNMB)
Bill Norman posing with Vanna White (Source: WNMB)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - An investigation into a patient's death at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center has landed a nurse in hot water.

Myrtle Beach Police began their investigation on Oct. 19, just days after the victim, William Norman, died.

A witness to the events that took place before Norman passed away told police that the victim was prescribed to receive four milligrams of morphine every half hour.

That witness believes the morphine doses were stockpiled to create a larger dose of 20 milligrams, which were administered through Norman's IV by his nurse, 53-year-old Janet Kupka.

Later in the day, the witness says Kupka retrieved a bottle and tube from another patient's room and took them into Norman's room. After the alarms sounded, Kupka admitted to this witness that she gave Norman Diprivan. Norman died shortly after receiving that dose.

Kupka was taken into custody on Dec. 5 and charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. She was released from jail on $20,000 bail.

Horry County Coroner Robert Edge says Norman was brain dead at the time of his death due to a stroke.

"Apparently this nurse gave him too much medication...and unfortunately he passed away," Edge says. "He probably would have died anyway...his situation was not reversible."

Edge says Norman's cause of death was and still is ruled as a Cerebral Vascular Accident, or bleeding in the brain, related to the stroke doctors were treating him for. Edge says the new information about Kupka's potential role in Norman's death was not revealed until after his body was cremated, destroying the physical evidence needed to test for overdose. He says that lack of evidence may have prevented authorities from charging Kupka with a more serious crime.

"If we had been told about it earlier, we could have gotten him before he was cremated," Edge says. "If we could've heard about it 24 hours earlier we could've gotten his body back here and done an autopsy on it."

Edge says if Kupka is found guilty of the charges brought against her, Norman's cause of death would likely be changed to an overdose.

According to the South Carolina Board of Nursing, Janet Kupka has been licensed as a registered nurse since 2005. She has the right to practice in multiple states. Her license is set to expire in April 2014.

Their website notes that Kupka is "in good standing with the SC Board of Nursing."

CEO of Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, Doug White, responded to the charges by saying:

Upon report of an alleged incident in October, we immediately notified all appropriate authorities including the South Carolina Board of Nursing, the DHEC Bureau of Drug Control and Myrtle Beach Police. We have cooperated with any and all law enforcement inquiries and requests and will continue to do so. As this is now a pending criminal case, we defer all inquiries to the solicitor's office of the 15th Judicial Circuit.It would be inappropriate for us to comment further except to say we remain committed to providing a high level of patient care.

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