Crime & Courts

A dying cancer patient’s pain meds were stolen. SC care home settles for $1 million

As Henry Sloan, body racked with pain, lay dying of pancreatic cancer at the Oakleaf Village of Lexington, someone was stealing his pain pills.

Hundreds of pills weren’t accounted for, said lawyers representing Sloan’s family. For months, the 75-year-old Columbia native, who had been a stalwart at his Shandon Methodist Church and a longtime human resources consultant, didn’t get all his pills, they said.

“Mr. Sloan is in extreme pain. He is in his room crying, saying he only got one pain pill today,” said an Oakleaf aide who learned about the thefts and went to Lexington police, telling officers that Sloan was threatening to kill himself.

Sloan died shortly after the thefts were discovered.

The company that owns Oakleaf recently paid $1 million to settle a claim brought by Sloan’s sister, Barry Sloan Lide, according to court documents.

His death was not caused by the missing pills.

But “Mr. Sloan was deprived of the thing he most wanted, which was to live out his final days in as little pain as possible so he could enjoy his family during the last few months of his life,” wrote Lide’s lawyers, Columbia attorneys Cheryl Perkins and Charles Whetstone in the court-approved $1 million settlement document.

In settling, the company did not admit fault and denied allegations that Sloan didn’t get his meds. The company also declined comment to The State newspaper. Oakleaf is a 100-bed, upscale assisted living center near downtown Lexington. Its beds start at $3,500 per month, according to a care facility pricing Internet site.

But legal documents – including a criminal conviction against a former employee who pleaded guilty to failure to report abuse of Sloan, a vulnerable adult – make it clear there is another version of events in the months before Sloan’s death in June 2016.

In that version, as reported in police reports, warrants and a transcript of the court hearing in state court tell how one Oakleaf former employee for months knew about but did nothing about the theft of Sloan’s pain pills. The pills were Percocets, which contain oxycodone, a highly addictive pain killer. The Percocets were removed from their bubble wrapping, and over-the-counter Tylenols were inserted in their place, according a police report.

In March, the employee who knew about the theft and did nothing – licensed nurse and nursing supervisor Linda Randolph, 65 – pleaded guilty before state Judge William Keesley to charges including accessory after the fact of a felony and failure to report the abuse of a vulnerable adult.

During Randolph’s guilty plea hearing, Judge Keesley – who has presided over numerous murder cases in his 26-year career – told the court, “This sounds like one of the most callous things I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve been on the bench a long time,” according to a transcript.

During the hearing, an undisputed statement by the prosecutor told how Randolph covered up for Betty Ann Jeffcoat, who was allegedly stealing the pain pills.

Randolph’s attorney, Micah Leddy, told Keesley that Randolph’s longtime friendship with Jeffcoat had caused her to allow her friend to keep taking pain pills.

“They were prayer partners,” Leddy said. “She stuck her neck out for a friend, and she broke the rule.”

Leddy also told the judge that doctors routinely prescribe more pain meds than are needed to dying patients, and so even with pills missing, Sloan was still getting his medication.

“I have no way of knowing that,” Keesley told Leddy.

Sloan, a University of South Carolina graduate and U.S. Army veteran, had chosen Oakleaf as a safe place to stay after being diagnosed with fatal pancreatic cancer and his condition deteriorated, his attorneys said.

“Mr. Sloan was prescribed a variety of narcotic pain medications that he needed to alleviate the pain and suffering caused by the progression of his terminal cancer,” according to the $1 million settlement petition.

On Dec. 17, 2015, a medical technician first discovered tampering and reported it to Randolph, her supervisor, according to police reports.

“There was no question that Linda Randolph knew that Betty Jeffcoat, the med tech, had stolen those medications,” prosecutor Ken Moore, an assistant attorney general, told Judge Keesley.

Not only did Randolph do nothing, she told the reporting med tech, “Promise not to tell a soul. I mean it,” Moore said. Then Randolph destroyed evidence the pills had been taken, Moore said. Randolph also sent the reporting med tech a text that said, “Take that to your grave.”

On Feb. 7, 2016, the reporting med tech again found that Sloan’s pain pills were missing. Again, she went to Randolph, who did nothing, Moore said. Meanwhile, another med tech told Randolph that another resident’s pain pills were missing and Tylenols substituted, but Randolph hushed the matter, Moore said.

In court, Moore summed up the case this way: Sloan and another resident from whom pain pills were taken “were betrayed by the caregivers who were supposed to take care of them.”

The attorney general’s office prosecutes cases involving vulnerable adults. The Lexington Police Department referred the case to the attorney general’s office.

At the end of the hearing, Randolph, 65, a mother of five, apologized. “I trusted Betty, and that was the wrong thing to do.”

Keesley sentenced Randolph to three years in prison, but suspended the sentence after giving her 90 days in jail, 320 hours of public service work and six months of house arrest. The judge also prohibited Randolph from getting any job that involves the care of vulnerable adults.

Jeffcoat, charged with theft of a controlled substance, is set for trial in December. She could not be reached for comment.