A Pennsylvania nurse used insulin to kill at least 17 patients

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published May 8, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • A Pennsylvania nurse was linked to 22 counts of mistreating patients and 17 deaths between 2020 and 2023; last week, she pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and 19 counts of attempted murder.

  • The nurse’s methods involved administering insulin during night shifts to avoid detection; she has been sentenced to three consecutive life sentences, with no possibility of parole.

  • Families affected by the nurse's actions have filed wrongful death suits against the facilities that employed her, prompting discussions about legislation for stricter insulin control and employee registries.

Heather Pressdee will spend her remaining years in prison after pleading guilty to 3 counts of first-degree murder and 19 counts of attempted murder.[] Pressdee, 41, is charged with mistreating 22 patients in 5 different nursing facilities between 2020 and 2023.

It’s alleged that Pressdee administered excessive amounts of insulin to patients. Not all patients who received insulin from Pressdee were diabetic. In all, 17 patients between the ages of 43 and 104 under Pressdee’s care died.[] 

A history of red flags

Pressdee is from Natrona Heights, a small suburban community on the edges of the Pittsburgh, PA, metropolitan area.[] Before earning her nursing license, Pressdee worked as a veterinary technician for 14 years.[] Notably, Pressdee reportedly provided anesthesia and euthanasia to animals while working at the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center. Pressdee received her associate’s degree in nursing in 2018 and worked in 12 different nursing facilities between her graduation and her 2023 arrest. 

Records at these facilities show red flags throughout Pressdee’s short nursing career.

She was disciplined in her first role for using insulin outside of physician orders. In subsequent jobs between 2018 and 2020, Pressdee’s records show disciplinary actions, concerns from supervisors, and false references. Investigators have now connected her time at a facility in 2019 to at least one death. 

Records also indicate that coworkers expressed concerns about Pressdee, but action was not taken against Pressdee's behavior, which allowed it to continue. Pressdee is accused of homicide and attempted murder between 2020 and 2023 in nursing facilities spread throughout the wider region, including Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, and in neighboring Butler, Armstrong, and Westmoreland counties.

At a Westmoreland County nursing facility, Pressdee’s coworkers reportedly dubbed her “the killer nurse.”

How she did it

Records show Pressdee primarily acted while working night shifts when staffing counts were low. According to the criminal complaint, Pressdee not only took steps to kill patients in her care, but she also made sure patients would die before the end of her shift.[] Pressdee was reportedly careful to avoid others observing any symptoms of excessive insulin dosing that would trigger emergency hospitalization, as the hospital would likely run tests that could expose her. 

According to one former coworker, Pressdee frequently commented that some patients “needed to die.”[]

Pressdee later repeated this statement to investigators. During questioning, she gave investigators additional reasons for her actions, such as saying that one patient “had no quality of life,” and that another had “looked at her like an animal would.” 

The arrest and trial 

Pressdee was initially arrested in May 2023, for the death of two patients and the hospitalization of a third at the Quality Life Services skilled nursing facility in Butler County, PA. In November 2023, she was charged with administering 19 additional doses of excessive insulin to patients across the Southwestern Pennsylvania area.

In total, Pressdee was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and 19 counts of attempted murder. According to a press release from the Pennsylvania Attorney General, the charges of first-degree murder are for cases when a direct link between Pressdee’s administration of excessive insulin and the patient’s death can be concretely proven. The charges of attempted murder are in cases when the link cannot be fully proven or in cases of patients who lived. 

Pressdee pleaded guilty to all charges on May 2, 2024. She received three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for the charges of first-degree murder. For the charges of attempted murder, Pressdee received another 380 to 760 consecutive years in prison.

James DePasquale, Pressdee’s lawyer, said Pressdee took the plea deal to avoid the death penalty.[] When asked in court why she was pleading guilty, Pressdee simply said, “Because I am guilty.”

Pressdee has been incarcerated since her May 2023 arrest. Her nursing license was suspended shortly after the initial charges were filed. 

Commenting on the plea deal, Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry said, “The defendant used her position of trust as a means to poison patients who depended on her for care. This plea and life sentence will not bring back the lives lost, but it will ensure Heather Pressdee never has another opportunity to inflict further harm.”

Wrongful death lawsuits against the facilities

Families affected by Pressdee have begun to take action against the facilities that employed her.

The family of Marianne Bower, who died at the Belair Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Westmoreland County, filed a wrongful death suit, alleging that the facility knew Pressdee’s employment record made her a risk to patient safety. At least three other families have filed similar suits.

There are currently two additional suits against Belair Healthcare and Rehabilitation and one against Butler County’s Sunnyview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. 

Beyond wrongful death suits, some are hoping this case prompts legislation in Pennsylvania, such as stricter insulin control and the creation of a registry where employers could list concerns and disciplinary actions regarding facility staff.

What this means for you

Heather Pressdee, a nurse, pleaded guilty to three murders and 19 attempted murders, in which she administered excessive insulin to patients in nursing facilities, and received multiple life sentences for her crimes. Despite red flags in her career, no action was taken by supervisors or facility managers—now, the affected families are suing the nursing facilities. This case has prompted discussions about legislation for stricter insulin control protocols and employee registries. 

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