A Pennsylvania woman has been charged with selling heroin … out of the intensive care unit (ICU), and then her hospital room while a patient at Excela Westmoreland County Hospital. The hospital is an adult inpatient mental health facility in Greensburg, a suburb of Pittsburg. After an undercover informant bought heroin from the woman, 38-year-old Lori Sullenberger, she was charged by police. The allegations included felony and misdemeanor drug-related charges – specifically, drug possession with intent to deliver.
After alerted by hospital staff, Westmoreland’s security became suspicious of the traffic to the room of the accused when they viewed surveillance video. In the ICU her visitors stayed for a couple of minutes and then left, which is very unusual behavior. Hospital staff say that usually visitors stay for a couple of hours. The visitors also didn’t know the patient’s last name. Also, Ms. Sullenberger had multiple cell phones that would ring at all hours. The suspect’s reason for being hospitalized is undisclosed.
Following raised suspicion, the undercover agent (hired by the police) who came to Ms. Sullenberger’s inpatient hospital room was successfully sold $90 (30 bags) worth of heroin on Friday. When the police came to search her room, they found $3,800 in heroin as well as drug paraphernalia and over $1,400 in cash in her purse and room drawers. The drugs were encased in more than 350 stamped bags of heroin. How the drugs entered the hospital is also under investigation.
Neighbors where Ms. Sullenberger used to live say that they had often witnessed suspicious activity in the frequent comings and goings at all hours of the night at the home where Ms. Sullenberger had lived with her family. She is a mother and has a lengthy rap sheet. She has pled guilty to charges in the past of drug possession, and has previously been charged with endangering welfare of children, forgery, and furnishing drug-free urine. She is awaiting hearing on the latter charge.
According to neighbors, heroin is a big problem in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. As a result, they formed neighborhood watch groups to keep an eye on drug-related crime. However, they acknowledge that it has been a serious challenge for those trying to keep their families and their community safe.
What community members are saying is that the police officers cannot accuse someone just because an individual has many visitors. Law enforcement needs credible evidence before it can prosecute or even get a search warrant for someone’s home. So, while neighbors may view the traffic to someone’s home as dubious, the police cannot do anything to prove or disprove their suspicions.
A spokesperson for Excela Health, Jennifer Miele, said that staff at Westmoreland Hospital are working hard against the widespread drug addiction problem in Westmoreland County. Every day patients come in to the emergency room needing treatment for overdoses. Dismayed, hospital staff are taking great efforts to add protocols to limit the administration to patients of painkiller medication.
On Tuesday, Ms. Sullenberger remained as a hospital inpatient while police worked on an arrest warrant for possession and sale of heroin for her, her boyfriend, and a third suspect. None of the three suspects are in custody yet. The Excela Health spokesperson, Jennifer Miele, said that overdosing by patients is very disturbing. Police also say that Sullenberger put heroin into her IV drip.
By Fern Remedi-Brown
Pittsburgh’s Action 4 News