Family seeks justice in death at Medford nursing home
The last time Aurelia Rios' daughter and son visited her in a Suffolk County nursing home, she kissed their cheeks and whispered that she loved them.
Rios, 72, had a tube down her throat and was tethered to a ventilator that evening in October 2012, but she was alert and upbeat, confident she'd be leaving the Medford facility soon, her daughter, Michelle Giamarino, recalled Tuesday.
"Don't worry, I'm fine," Rios mouthed during the visit. "I'll be here; I can't be anywhere else."
The next day, she was dead.
At about 3 a.m. on Oct. 26, an employee at Medford Multicare Center for Living called Giamarino, 52, at her home in Pennsylvania with terrible news: Rios was unresponsive and had to be rushed to a Brookhaven hospital.
Rios died that morning. She had been at the center for about six weeks, recovering from treatment for pneumonia.
Her death is now part of a lawsuit filed by State Attorney General Eric T. Scheiderman against the facility and has led to a charge of criminally negligent homicide against one employee.
Rios died even though her pulse oximeter that night kept sounding an alarm every 15 seconds for two hours, signaling she wasn't attached to the machine that helped her breathe at night, the suit said. "I cried a lot. Now I'm very angry," Giamarino said. "How can you be that negligent? That's a life."
Rios was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Brooklyn when she was 11, her daughter said. She graduated from the former Eli Whitney High School.
Thirty years ago, she moved her children from Williamsburg to Central Islip, where she bought a four-bedroom Cape Cod home that "took everything she had," Giamarino said.
Rios, who had three children and 10 grandchildren, was a former senior dental assistant. She retired about 16 years ago and continued to care for an adult son with emotional disabilities. In 2010, her husband, Jose Vega, 82, died of esophageal cancer, Giamarino said.
The Medford facility said Rios died of a heart attack, but her family questioned that. She had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease but wasn't being treated for cardiac complications, the family said.
In November 2012, Schneiderman's office called Giamarino to ask her questions about her mother's death. Three months ago, the family learned that the agency had brought charges.
"She needs a voice," Giamarino said Tuesday. "She matters. She mattered to me, to my children, to her family."