Genene Jones: Baby Killer
Her Own Special Shift
The first child she picked up had a fatal intestinal condition, and when he died shortly after surgery, she went berserk. She brought a stool into the cubicle where the body lay and sat staring at it. The other nurses could not understand her behavior. She hadn't even known the child and had barely been around him, so why the excessive grief?
It soon became clear to associates that Genene liked to feel needed, and she would often spend long hours on the ward during her three to 11 p.m. shift, insisting that her attention was important to a certain patient. However, she skipped classes on the proper handling of drugs and in her first year made eight separate nursing errors, including while dispensing medication. She sometimes developed a dependency on sick children, so she would refuse specific orders because she wanted to do what was "best" for the child.
While there were sufficient grounds for dismissal, including coming in one night drunk, the head nurse Pat Belko liked and protected her, which gave Jones a feeling of invincibility. She never liked to admit any mistakes, and now she had someone in power to back her up. She tried to bully new nurses into looking to her for help, and more than one nurse transferred out of the unit to get away from her.
As she took charge, Genene grew more arrogant, aggressive and foul-mouthed. She liked to talk about her sexual conquests, both past and future. Not many people liked her. She would make harrowing predictions about which baby was going to die, which upset the new nurses she was training.
Then a new doctor came to the ward, James Robotham. Hired as the medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit, he took more responsibility for patients than other doctors had, and that meant edging out the nurses. He also made them more accountable, which didn't sit well with them. All except for Genene, who welcomed the opportunity to bring more problems to someone's attention — because that meant attention for her.
Her other means for getting noticed was to go to outpatient clinics for minor physical complaints of her own, which Elkind says she did 30 times in just over two years. Although she was never officially diagnosed, she may have been suffering from a form of Munchausen Syndrome, in which people become "hospital hoboes" to get attention from caring staff that they feel they missed out on as children. Even when Genene wasn't at some county clinic, she was complaining about her health and seeking some leverage with it. One physician said her problems were psychosomatic.
In 1981, Jones demanded to be put in charge of the sickest patients. That placed her close to those who died. She seemed to thrive on the excitement of an emergency and even on grief when a child didn't make it. While she prepared a body, she would sing to it and she always wanted to take the corpse to the morgue. This routine was a regular procession, with a security guard walking ahead of her to close patients' doors. Genene often cried as she performed this task, but then again, it did seem as if she liked to cry.
No one seemed concerned that many medications were freely available on that ward in an unlocked cabinet — not until later. Nor did they give any thought to the fact that the hospital where Genene had last worked had not given a reason for her dismissal. No one followed up, although Genene was placed in a role of significant responsibility. Her special talent, Elkind points out, was putting intravenous tubes into veins. She requested special seminars handling certain drugs and asked many questions. People were impressed by how much she wanted to learn.
It eventually became clear to everyone that children were dying in this unit from problems that shouldn't have been fatal. Davis claims there was one two-week period where seven children died. The need for resuscitation suddenly seemed constant — but only when Genene was around. Those in the most critical condition were all under her care. There was no denying the excitement that an emergency situation engendered, and Genene even commented on several occasions that it was "an incredible experience." One child had a seizure three days in a row, but only on her shift.
"They're going to start thinking I'm the Death Nurse," Jones quipped one day. In fact, some of the staff called her on-duty hours the Death Shift, based on the many resuscitations that were going on during the hours she was there — and the many deaths.
She even seemed to enjoy calling parents to let them know about their child's death and to commiserate. If a baby's health was bad, she would announce to the other nurses, "Tonight is the night." If a child was near death, she always took a special interest. She clearly wanted to be there when it happened.
While rumors were passed around that Genene was doing something to these children, Pat Belko defended her. It was just gossip from nurses who were jealous of her competence. She refused to listen.
Then a baby named Jose Antonio Flores, six months old, came in with some common childhood symptoms: fever, vomiting and diarrhea. While in Genene's care, he developed unexplained seizures and went into cardiac arrest.