Tuesday, June 14, 2016

#ThrillerTuesday Part 3 with an #interview of Alex Destephano from 'The Imposter' by @JudithLucci #RPBP #mystery #crime #blogseries

Thriller Tuesday with The Imposter
Please follow along as we get to know the characters of Judith Lucci's Mystery Novels!
'The Imposter' is On Sale!!! Just $0.99
About The Book

It is hotter than hell in New Orleans and newly promoted Police Commander Jack Francoise is battling horrific crime in the Vieux
Carre. At the Psychiatric Pavilion, nurses are doling out Thorazine Slurpees to the criminally insane and viciously psychotic patients in the South. Alexandra Destephano, legal counsel for the hospital is troubled by safety issues and is working hard to protect patients and staff. The violence escalates and brutal beatings and murder becomethe order of the day as life in the Big Easy becomes Uneasy.

Get it on Amazon for 99c/99p

Episode Three
You won't find this in the book!

An Interview with Alex Destephano, RN, JD, MHA 
Legal Counsel for Crescent City Medical Center
I looked over the resume in front of me and read through the pages of the nominee for "Hospital Person of the Year". As I glanced through the young woman's credentials, a part of me liked her less and less. First of all, she was a Virginia blueblood and they didn’t come bluer than Alexandra Lee Destephano. Alex was the granddaughter of one of the most powerful political figures in the world. Her grandfather was Adam Patrick Lee, the senior congressman from Virginia. Congressman Lee was a law and order politician and pretty much set and controlled international foreign policy on terrorism and other heinous entities who threatened the peace and security of the US. But, back to Alex. She was Virginia educated with a nursing degree and master’s degree in health administration than from the Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and a law degree from the University of Virginia. Based on my knowledge, it didn't get much better than that. She was the beautiful young woman who’d had everything. But then I remembered something… She’d been married to surgeon Robert Bonnet, a favored son of New Orleans’ political aristocracy and now they were divorced. And, she was raised by her grandparents, so there had to be a story there. So maybe, just maybe, life wasn't as perfect for her as it sounded.

"Come in," I responded to the soft knock on my door. The door opened and a tall young woman, most likely in her 30s, entered and extended her hand. I stood and accepted her grasp. I looked into her extraordinary blue-violet eyes and saw nothing there but intelligence and kindness. Perhaps she wasn't the spoiled brat I’d envisioned.

"Alexandra," I said. "Welcome to the offices of the Times Picayune. I'm delighted you've been nominated for Hospital Woman of the Year. How long have you been in NOLA now?”

“I’ve been here almost four years. Please call me Alex. I'm excited to be nominated as well, especially in a city where there are so many hospitals and so many extraordinary leaders. It's a real honor for me," she said with a smile, a light flush on her face.

"It seems to me that you’ve lead Crescent City Medical Center through some very tough times. Things around there were difficult based on what happened during Mardi Gras this year."

Alex nodded, blonde highlights gleaming in her thick, luxurious red hair. "Yes, I'm thankful all of that turned out well, and the best news is that former Governor Raccine's wife, Grace continues to do well. Hospital admissions are growing and our outcomes of care are excellent. We've definitely got the best nurses and physicians in the greater New Orleans area and I’m proud to be a part of CCMC."

I nodded my head. "You’ve done well. Now, how is your chief surgeon, Dr. Robert Bonnet? Has his arm healed completely from the Chaos over Carnival?"

Alex's face turned pink. It was clearly not a question she was expecting. "Dr. Bonnet is doing well. He remains our chief of surgery and is doing some assisting in the OR. He's still undergoing physical therapy for the wounds he sustained in February. I'm sure he'll be back to normal in a few months," she assured me.

“That's great to hear," I said enthusiastically. I knew I wasn’t gonna ruffle this lady’s professional persona. “Now, what's next on your agenda as an administrator and legal counsel for the hospital?"

"Oh, I have a list of things I want to either change or improve upon. Where would you like me to start?" she laughed and smiled beautifully.

I studied her and was impressed. She was competent and unassuming. “You know, CCMC is lucky to have someone with your expertise. In addition to your administrative and legal credentials, you bring a clinical snapshot to the table because of your nursing background.” 

“Yes I do. I'm not sure everyone really likes that all the time, but I’m invested in quality of care and safety. From both a legal and clinical standpoint, those are both milestones we must meet each and every day." She paused for a moment and continued, "I'm planning to change things around in our psychiatric Pavilion. The building is somewhat distant from the main hospital campus, so I want to beef up security around the building as well do a few other things to maintain optimal care and safety for our psychiatric patients and staff."

I raised my eyebrows and said, "Doesn't the state of Louisiana house a criminal unit there where the worse criminals in the South are treated?”

Alex nodded. “Yes, we have that unit and I’m invested in safety, security and optimal care for all units. Many of the inmates are quite ill,” she added. “My current priority at CCMC is the Psychiatric Pavilion and I’ll be meeting with the hospital Board of Directors to present my plan soon.”

I nodded and asked, “Now, how is your relationship with Captain Jack Francoise with the NOPD? We understood it was quite problematic at first. Is it fair to say the two of you got off to a very rocky start?”

Alex laughed and I found I loved the sound of her laughter. She laughed from deep down and it told me she enjoyed a good joke, had a great sense of humor and truly enjoyed life. “Now that would be an understatement. We got off to a more than rocky start but I’m happy to say that now we are the very best of friends and colleagues. I have great respect for the Captain.”

“Good to hear since the hospital often needs their services,” I mused out loud.

Alex nodded. “Yes, unfortunately our emergency department, a level one trauma center, interacts with the NOPD almost every day. I ‘m delighted to count Captain Francoise as someone I can depend on.”

I smiled at Alex and said, “Well, that’s it for me. No more questions. Kudos on your nomination. Do you have any questions for me?” I stood and held out my hand.

Alex shook it warmly. “Thank you so much for the opportunity. I’ll look forward to the article.”

As I watched her leave Times Picayune offices, I found myself thinking what an exceptional woman Alex Destephano was. I knew we’d hear a great deal more from her in the future. She was a keeper and we were lucky to have her in NOLA.
Enjoy An Excerpt From 'The Imposter'
Chapter 4

It was a little after midnight and Angela Richelieu was just finishing her nursing shift report when the red light went on in the corner of the nursing station at Crescent City Psychiatric Pavilion signaling an All Staff Alert. "Damn!" she muttered under her breath. Flashing red meant all hell had broken out somewhere on the unit. She sadly knew what that meant for her and picking up her daughter on time. Her shift had ended at 11, but paperwork had taken her an hour after that. Now who knew when she would get off the unit.

Cursing under her breath, she unlocked a small metal cabinet and took out a syringe filled with Vitamin G. She laughed a bit as she thought about the Vitamin G - a nickname for Geodon. A powerful anti-psychotic agent, it could settle down a horse almost immediately. G for goodnight! She placed the syringe in the pocket of her blue uniform top and cautiously opened the security door that led onto the Psych unit. Never knew who was hanging around, just waiting to get into the office.

Now the coast was clear. Angela saw everybody heading toward the east corridor. She heard an angry "Get the hell off of me! I'm a policeman!" coming from that hallway. Big Jim! she thought to herself.

She was surprised and not surprised at the same time. James McMurdie, the former NOPD cop, had been a model patient up until now, so she was surprised that he was involved. She was not surprised because she had almost seen something coming earlier in the evening.

It had been a great shift on the unit until that new administrator, Lester Whats-his-name, had shown up. He wasn't even a real employee. Don Montgomery, the CEO, had contracted with him to run the Psych Pavilion. Lester was weird, just as weird as some of the patients. The patients had been quiet until he came onto the unit. Once the patients saw him, a sort of agitation had set in like a wolf walking into a field of tasty sheep.

Plus he was creepy. Angie shook off a chill when she thought about the way he had looked at her. He was gross and struck her as a real letch. He'd stayed most of the evening on the unit. He was working in his office between the general psych and the prison units when he wasn't on the units talking with the patients. She remembered the other nurses saying how inappropriate it was that he talked so much with the patients. He had spent a lot of time talking with Jim in the dayroom. A lot of time....

Angela hurried past the shuffling patients and when she turned the corner and looked down the corridor, she saw a sight that was both tragic and comical. Jason, the lone security guard, whose best asset was his enormous weight, was lying on top of Jim in the hallway. Ben the orderly had control of Jim's right arm and Amy, a petite Asian-American patient care assistant was trying to control his left arm. Amy was wrapped around the arm like a python while he threw her up and down as if she were weightless and he tireless. Amy grunted each time Jim slammed her onto the dirty green tile floor.

Ben looked up as Angela ran down the hallway. "Hurry up! He's beating the hell out of Amy!"

Angela looked to Jim's left arm where Amy was clinging like a tired squirrel to a tree trunk, and saw that Jim's sleeve had ripped at the shoulder, exposing his taut deltoid muscle. Without hesitating, she sat down on top of Amy. Mercifully, their combined weight kept the flailing left arm pinned to the floor as Angela plunged the needle into the deltoid muscle and pushed the Vitamin G into Jim's body. She withdrew the needle and waited.

As she sat perched on the softening arm, Angela thought about what a joke the Psychiatric Pavilion was. The "Pavilion" was really an old three-story storage warehouse that CCMC had hastily renovated into three psychiatric units about eight years ago when psychiatric and substance abuse services had actually been moneymakers for the hospital. Now they weren't and the building had been sadly neglected. It was beginning to have the look of a "blighted" building that Angie remembered from her Community Health class at LSU where she had recently received her Bachelor's degree in Nursing. Fat lot of good that did me, she mused.

But Angie knew in her heart that her degree did matter. She chose to work at the Pavilion where the salary was at least 50% more than the medical units because the patients were so sick, scary and dangerous. The Pavilion was actually three nursing units. Pavilion I was now the Prison Unit and housed some of the most dangerous, criminally insane inmates from the Deep South. Pavilion II was now general psychiatry where chronically psychotic patients were committed by temporary detaining orders. They were kept there "until they promised not to try to kill themselves or others again". Angie thought it was criminal that these sick patients were generally discharged in two days. Jim was one of the exceptions. Pavilion III was the substance abuse unit where patients were detoxed and "cured" in three days, and then discharged. The absolute worst was the CCMC Pavilion management. Don Montgomery, the CEO of CCMC, had contracted with the state hospital over in Mandeville to take their forensic psychiatric patients several years ago when a public outrage from the good citizens of Mandeville had succeeded and the hospital closed. Even though CCMC received a premium for housing and caring for the forensic patients, none of the money went back into the safety and security of staff and patients at CCMC. Angie shuddered and felt a chill when she thought about the patients she'd worked with over the past year. Some of them had nearly frightened her to death. She had thought Jim was one of the safe ones - until now.

While plunging the needle into Jim's shoulder, she had made the mistake of looking into his eyes. The eyes were there, but Jim wasn't. It was as if he were somewhere else. He had not recognized her. Recognition was the basis of human interaction, and is what separated friend from foe. Those empty eyes terrified her!

"What set him off tonight?" Angela asked Ben as she came back to the present. "He was one of the good ones - I thought."

"Louis and Jim were playing Battleship in the dayroom. Louis won and Jim said he was cheating. It was strange-like. Normally Jim didn't care if he won or lost. Not this time. Next thing, Jim said Louis was sleeping with his wife. Crazy! Louis hasn't had a hard on in ten years. Next thing, Jim lunged at Louis and missed and Louis ran into the hallway yelling. Jim followed with murder in his eyes. Louis ducked under Jason's arm and Jim ran smack into that arm. Knocked him down and Jason got on top of him. I came out of the dayroom and jumped on Jim's arm."

"Thanks, Louis. Many thanks to you, Jason. And Amy - what you did was above the call of duty. I think you're going to be pretty sore. If you need to call off for your next shift, I'll vouch for you," Angie said as she looked at the poor battered Asian-American woman.

"Thank you, Miss Angie," replied Amy in broken English.

"OK, let's get a stretcher and get Jim into the seclusion room. I've got to go back to the office and write up the report for this incident." Angie got up and hurried back to the office, carrying the capped syringe with her to deposit in the sharps container.

Chapter 5 

It was after two am when Angela finally stood in front of the first of two locked metal exit doors. This one bore the scars of countless chair and table strikes. The institutional grey paint was scratched and the graffiti had not been washed off for a week. She fumbled with her keys and finally got the key in the lock and urged the heavy tumbler to turn. "Damn," she cursed glancing at her watch and noting the time. She wished she had called the childcare center in the main hospital to tell them how late she would be picking up Jessica. Oh my God, I am three hours late, she thought. They're going to kill me over there. She felt her pulse race with anxiety as she considered how upset her 16 month-old daughter was going to be when she woke her up to take her home.

I've got to get a new job, she thought. This psych unit is killing me. She closed the door and heard the reassuring click as it locked. She walked down the short hallway to the second of the two locked doors. This one only bore a couple of scars, but they were deep. She didn't remember who it was or when, but one of the patients had followed a staff member through the first door with a broken off chair leg in hand. Most of the blows had landed on the unlucky staff member. A few had landed on the door. The door had survived - the staff member had not.

I never get off on time, she thought. She glanced behind her just once to make sure nobody was in there with her then she unlocked the second door. Once through that door, there was a long hallway then an exit door with a push bar. The second door closed behind her and she made sure it was locked before she walked down the long hallway. Boy, it’s dark out there, she thought, peering through the glass windows of the hallway. Sensing freedom, she pushed on the bar to open the door to the outside. The elation was short-lived.

The heat smacked Angie in the face as she walked into the August night. The air was close and heavy. A crimson-tinged bolt of lightning highlighted the sky for an instant then things went dark again. Thunderstorms, she thought. “I've got to get home soon. Jessica is scared of thunderstorms and lightning and she will freak out if it happens in the car.” She walked quickly through the darkened path towards the parking lot. She looked around and told herself she was alone. It's pretty spooky out here, she thought. For a moment, she considered calling security, then she remembered that it would take at least thirty minutes for the guard to get over to the Pavilion. Besides, if he were busy, it could be twice that time.

With the cutbacks heralding the new health care act, there was only one security guard on the night shift now. There used to be three or more guards, even on weekends and now there was only one roaming guard and one - Jason - in the forensic psych unit where Angie worked. After all, it is New Orleans and even post Katrina, the crime rates were startling.

Angie continued to reflect on the Pavilion as she walked to her car. Now psychiatry was a money-loser, a liability to the bottom line -- and CCMC, a world-class hospital wasn't about to spend large sums of money to safeguard patients or staff. Managed care payment systems made it almost impossible for you to be crazy, have a breakdown or recover from prescription or street drug abuse or alcohol. Reimbursement had all but disappeared and with health reform on the horizon, it would only get worse. The mental health system in the US was sadly and severely broken, irretrievably so, perhaps. In fact, with everyone getting care under the new reformed system, it was predicted that mental health care would increase steadily with shorter term admissions.

Angie shook her head when she considered just how awful the mental health system was in the US. Depressed, deranged and addicted psychiatric patients could no longer come in for a few weeks of therapy, get their meds regulated, have a few art classes and play some board games to learn to control their anger. Why, just last week they had discharged a newly diagnosed Bipolar II female patient who had attempted suicide and been in a coma for 10 days with an aspiration pneumonia. She only stayed on the psych unit for two days, because the patient promised, "I'll never do it again. I don't know what came over me." Of course, her insurance didn't want to pay either but the hospital would have been ethically bound to keep her if she had asked to stay. In Angie's mind that bordered on gross negligence. Suppose that woman went home and "offed" herself with her small children in the home? Worse still, suppose in her psychosis, she killed herself and her family? It had happened before. What safeguards had been put in place? Oh, I forgot, Angie admonished herself. She had two days of counseling and three days of Lithium. At least that’s what the attending shrink had told Angie when she questioned the discharge. That should do it. Yeah, sure, Angie thought. She was disgusted with the entire US mental health system. How in the world could anyone get better in only several days? These poor, mentally sick, often physically ill patients, were discharged back on the streets of NOLA or even to their homes with no regulated medicines or skills to fight back against the demons that endlessly plagued their minds.

Her walk in the black night seemed endless. Even this late, the southern air was stifling and viscous. She was sweating, but she felt cold on the inside. Angie continued to think about the dangerous patient population at the Pavilion. Many of CCMC’s psychiatric admissions were initiated at the hands of the New Orleans Police and the local magistrate who had them committed after they had been picked up for a crime or some sort of outburst. Angie quivered again when she thought of some of the deeply psychotic patients trying to live on their own. They also had to medicate several of the most violent patients prior to bedtime. Angie had doled out six Thorazine slurpees like they were health food drinks but even then, the brutality was awful. She thought about it and then deliberately pushed it from her mind.

When she was honest, Angie admitted to herself that she hated working in psychiatry. She hated it because she was afraid. And she knew the patients knew. It was almost as if they could smell it on her. She could see the recognition in their eyes when they realized it. They seemed to give her a secret smile. Many of their eyes seemed to have an evil glint. Besides, on the critical care units or in the emergency room, you could predict physiological changes in patients. You knew if a patient was going to "go bad" and have a heart attack or throw an embolus. You knew what to expect. But, in psych! You just couldn't tell. You couldn't anticipate the interworking and short circuitry in the minds of the profanely and criminally insane. They'd go off at the drop of a hat over nothing. You could hand them their fork the wrong way and they'd come after you. It was frightening. Many of the patients were violent criminals who had committed heinous crimes, yet CCMC cared for them and she didn't mind caring for them. She just wanted to have enough staff to work in a safe place.

Angie continued her musings on the way to her car. Her background was critical care and emergency department but there'd been an opening on the psych unit where she could work just weekends and get paid for full time. This was ideal in many ways as it allowed her time with Jessica. She could be the kind of wife her husband wanted--at least most of the time. Besides, the money was good. Everybody at CCME knew the Psychiatric Pavilion was the armpit of the hospital and that nurses were paid a premium to work there because it was dangerous. The Pavilion was also isolated, turbulent and chronically understaffed, especially now because nobody really knew what health reform was going to do to psych care. Usually Angie didn't mind so much. But the past three nights had been particularly stressful for her, more so than usual. She had been on a different unit each night and besides, Jessica had a cold and she always felt bad leaving her baby in daycare when she was sick. Her Catholic guilt kicked in every time.

It was darker than the blackest of nights, as an ominous feeling of dread hung thick in the night air. Thunderstorms earlier in the evening had created a mass of low, overhanging clouds that completely obliterated the moon. Suddenly, Angie felt a chill come over her. She looked over her shoulder as a quiver ran up her spine. Her legs tingled. Did she hear someone breathing? She strained her ears. She couldn't hear anything strange. The hum of the cicadas and other night insects was deafening. Angela picked up her step, making a pact with herself never to walk to the parking lot alone again. Not ever. It was scary and unsafe. What in the world was wrong with her? Why had she made such a reckless decision? After another minute or so she heard another noise. It sounded like a set of keys hitting the pavement or, perhaps, like metal hitting metal, she thought. Then, she heard a cough and a sigh of what seemed like satisfaction.

Angie's autonomic nervous system kicked in. Fight or flight! She started running for her life, but was no match for her assailant. He quickly overtook her, grabbed her by the hair, stuck a rag in her mouth, and pulled her over into a crop of trees to the right of the road. Her attacker seemed huge and had a large scarf tied over his face. His head was covered with a hat. Angie looked into her attacker’s face as he leered over her. Her eyes widened in disbelief when they adjusted to the darkness. She knew this man! Her heart was firing erratically and she was dizzy and weak with fear. Her assailant looked at her and laughed.

"So, you recognize me, you little slut bitch. We can't have that now, can we?” Her assailant spat the words at her.

Angie was paralyzed with fear. Her hands were pinned down and the assailant's knee was in between her legs. Her captor outweighed her and was strong. She couldn't move, but struggled against him anyway, trying to overcome his strength.

He let one of her hands go for a second while he pushed one of the metal spikes into the soft ground.

Angela's hand ripped the hat off her assailant's head and she dug her nails into his hair, pulling as much hair out as she could. She had wanted to poke out his eyes, but had missed.

"You little bitch, I could kill you for that! How dare you touch me. You are one of them.” The man slapped her, dislocating her jaw.

Angie felt the bone pop near her ear. The pain was overwhelming and she started to vomit. This further enraged her captor and he slammed her face into the dirt, ripping off her uniform pants. His intent was clear, but all Angie could do was lay there and focus on the smell of the rotting vegetation on the side of the road. She tried to detach herself from her surroundings. It didn't work.

She heard him grunting while he pushed three more stakes into the ground, singing quietly to himself as he moved methodically through his tasks, clearing old leaves and trash out of his way and away from her. It was like he was cleaning house. For a moment she thought he had forgotten about her and she felt a bit of hope. But it was far-fetched. He turned to her, smiled sweetly, and bit her on her shoulder. Angie screamed and then her attacker hit her in the head with a piece of metal pipe.

Angela felt the searing pain rip through her head and down into her neck and shoulders with the first blow. The second blow didn't seem to hurt so much. Her last conscious thought was how pretty the twinkling lights looked in the intensive care unit in the main hospital building. She could see them clearly from where she was and she wished she were working a double shift up there where everything was predictable, where the patients were harmless and appreciative. Then, finally, blessedly, she lost consciousness.
Did You Miss The first Episodes from Thriller Tuesday? Not to worry, we have them!
About The Author
Judith Lucci writes what she knows.....Hospitals, Patients, Physicians and Health Care. She adds suspense and intrigue along with well developed plots, vivid descriptions and memorable characters, and produces medical thrillers that few readers can put down.
Dr. Lucci is the author of the Alexandra Destephano Series, a series of medical thrillers that offer fans an escape into the busy world of a fictitious world-class hospital in New Orleans. The main characters are Alexandra Destephano, a nurse attorney who is legal counsel for Crescent City Medical Center(CCMC) and Jack Francoise, a dedicated, gnarly, unyielding NOPD Commander who covers the 8th Precinct and the French Quarter in New Orleans. Add dashing surgeon Robert Bonnet, Alex's ex-husband and her best friend and psychiatrist Monique Desmonde, and the cast is complete. Lucci's thrillers are a fast-paced, riveting medical thrillers that offer readers believable drama, and memorable characters and extraordinary thrilers that allow them to escape into the complex, often mysterious world of health care.

Virginia born Judith Lucci holds graduate and doctoral degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia. She is the author of numerous academic and health-related articles and documents. Her novels are based on her clinical experiences, very active imagination and experiences living in New Orleans and Virginia. When not teaching or writing, Judith is an avid silk painter and multi-media artist. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her family and six dogs.

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