Is Heather Pressdee a Healthcare Serial Killer?
On May 24, 2023, forty-year-old assistant director of nursing Heather Pressdee told investigators that she murdered two patients and attempted to murder another out. of mercy. Pressdee worked at Quality Life Services, a skilled nursing facility that, according to its website has several locations throughout Pennsylvania. Available services range from short-term rehabilitation to hospice care. Pressdee began working at Quality Life Services as a registered nurse on May 23, 2022; she later became interim director of nursing. She worked there for six months; her last day was November 28 of 2022.
Heather Pressdee is still awaiting trial and is innocent until proven guilty. However, as you are about to see, investigators have found some disturbing evidence. On August 31, 2022, a staff member found a seventy-three-year-old male patient convulsing in his bed. He had no history of seizures. According to his medical chart, he had been given medication ten minutes before his seizures began.
Quality of Life staff rushed him to Butler Hospital, where doctors soon discovered that hypoglycemia was the culprit. Hypoglycemia is a condition in which a person’s blood sugar drops dangerously low. It is almost always related to diabetes. And yet, this patient was non-diabetic. Doctors believed that the only way his blood sugar could have plummeted to that extent was if someone had given him a massive amount of insulin. Fortunately, his attending physicians were able to stabilize him. He eventually recovered.
On October 16, 2022, a fifty-five-year-old Quality of Life resident was admitted to the hospital for a urinary tract infection. While hospitalized, nursing staff discovered he was also hypoglycemic. Why was a mystery as this man did not have diabetes. Once his blood sugar was stabilized, he returned to Quality Life Services.
But approximately a month later — November 20, 2022 — he was back at Butler Memorial Hospital with blood sugar so abnormally low that medical staff was suspicious. Investigators said that, due to the patient’s pre-existing medical conditions, the 55-year-old man could not have administered the insulin himself. Three hours later, his eighty-three-year-old suitemate was admitted with the exact same symptoms of hypoglycemia. While this patient did have diabetes, he was in the end stage of dementia in hospice care. There was no way he shot himself up with insulin.
Sadly, neither of the Nov 20th victims survived. Medical providers could not stabilize the younger patient, and on December 4, 2022, the family decided to end life-sustaining care. On Christmas Day, 2022, his suitemate died.
Butler Memorial Hospital staff was stunned. What was going on? Was someone deliberately hurting patients? One nurse practitioner told investigators that she’d never seen this occur in her 30-year career.
The Investigation Begins
Ironically, Heather Pressdee’s position, first as assistant director and then as interim director of nursing, involved investigating the same abuses she was now accused of. Fortunately, by the time a full investigation was underway, Heather Pressdee was no longer employed by the skilled nursing facility.
While the initial investigation was sparked by suspicions of improper administration of insulin as the cause of the untimely deaths of two patients, coworkers sent the inquiry in Pressdee’s direction. This is often the case when it comes to healthcare serial killers.
According to a registered nurse, known in the affidavit and registered nurse T.S., taking over Pressdee’s duties on August 31, 2022, she found it odd when she noticed that Pressdee had not left thirty minutes after her shift had ended. When T.S. asked Pressdee about it, Pressdee stated that she still had things to do; she stuck around even after T.S. told her she would finish up. T.S. said that she then noticed Pressdee walking in the direction of the seventy-three-year-old victim’s room. Shortly after that, when responding to this patient’s medical emergency, she saw a box of lancets sitting on a table in his room.[Nurses use lancets to check blood sugar]. T.S. was puzzled by this as this patient did not have diabetes.
According to another nurse who worked with Pressdee, Pressdee had commented that one of her victims “would be better off dead” shortly before he was hospitalized with hypoglycemia. According to medical records, Pressdee was the nurse who administered medication to the seventy-three-year-old victim; she was also in charge of the medication chart on August 31, 2022.
None of this is a smoking gun. And in a setting where people are already gravely ill or dying, charges of medical murder must be firmly grounded in science rather than suspicion. There have already been cases where a misperceived “cluster” of deaths in an ICU or neonatal unit led to a witchhunt instead of what it was — a coincidence or a correlation.
An Angel of Mercy?
No amount of evidence was more potent than Pressdee’s confession. According to the probable cause affidavit, Pressdee said mercy was her motive. She felt terrible about their poor quality of life and “hoped they would just slip into a coma and pass away.” She even claimed that her seventy-three-year-old victim had asked her directly to put him out of his misery. “It was an extremely busy night, and he asked me to kill him.”
No one has the right to play God, but there are situations in which we might be tempted. Pressdee’s victims were indeed deathly ill. At least one was in hospice care. Whether she actually said one of her victims would be better off dead or not, I don’t think Pressdee would be the first to wonder how much and what quality of life her patients had left.
For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that Pressdee’s claim about her motive is valid. What would you expect this person’s history to look like? What would her coworkers say about her? Here are some of the things I’d imagine hearing:
“ Heather was such a dedicated nurse. She treated every patient like they were a beloved member of her family.”
“She often stayed later than she needed to, sitting beside her patients and talking to them even if they couldn’t hear or understand her.”
“Suffering is something you see in a nursing home. But Heather would do anything to try to make her patients comfortable.”
“Her patients loved her. I’ve heard more than one call her their guardian angel.”
Do you see where I’m headed with this? It would still be murder, but I can imagine a dedicated, sensitive, caring, and perhaps burned-out nurse witnessing her patients slowly deteriorate day after day and deciding she could no longer sit by and watch. This personality profile was not Heather Pressdee.
Pressdee’s got her registered nurse’s license on July 31, 2018. According to a criminal complaint, she was disciplined at eleven former nursing jobs in western Pennsylvania for “abusive behavior toward patients or staff, and either resigned or was fired from each facility.” How could she have been hired at number twelve?
I also found her saying, “It was a very busy night” and “He asked me to kill him” in the same sentence both strange and telling. What would one have to do with the other, unless it was in Pressdee’s mind? Were the murders a way to relieve stress or lessen her workload? Pressdee is the only one who knows.
The Bottom Line
On Wednesday, May 25, 2023, Pressdee was charged with two counts of homicide, a count of attempted murder, a count of aggravated assault, three counts of neglect of a care-dependent person, and three counts of reckless endangerment. The investigation is still open, and investigators are asking anyone with information or concerns to come forward.
There’s a lot we don’t know about Heather Presdee, including whether she will be found guilty. What strikes me is how often convicted healthcare serial killers claim to act out of mercy. I’ve researched healthcare serial killers who killed for the thrill of it, to impress someone, or out of anger, spite, revenge, annoyance, and sadism.
But mercy? I’m still waiting.