Medford nursing home workers ignored alarms as patient died, NY attorney general says

Michelle Giarmarino, daughter victim of Aurelia Rios, 72,

Michelle Giarmarino, daughter victim of Aurelia Rios, 72, who died at the Medford Multicare Center for Living Nursing home in Medford, holds up a picture of her mother, after nine current and former employees of Medford Multicare Center for Living who have all pleaded not guilty Thursday, June 5, 2014, to charges they failed to properly care of Rios. Photo Credit: James Carbone

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Six employees at a Medford nursing home ignored multiple alarms alerting them to a 72-year-old patient's distress as she lay in bed, struggling to breathe, state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Thursday.

The employees -- two nurses, three nurse's aides and a respiratory therapist -- failed to act as Aurelia Rios of Central Islip died on their watch the night of Oct. 26, 2012, state prosecutors said.

Rios wasn't attached to a ventilator as ordered by her doctor, prosecutors said.

After she was declared dead, the employees, another nurse and two supervisors at Medford Multicare Center for Living attempted to cover up Rios' death by lying to her family and to state health investigators, according to prosecutors.

The nine employees were arraigned Thursday in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on charges that include patient neglect and abuse, falsifying business records, obstructing government administration, tampering with physical evidence and endangering an incompetent person.

The employees indicted are: David Fielding, 57, of Lido Beach, the facility's administrator; Christine Boylan, 49, of Mastic, director of respiratory therapy; Kethlie Joseph, 62, of Brentwood, a respiratory therapist; nurses Victoria Caldwell, 51, of Medford, Marianne Fassino, 53, of Shirley, and Kimberly Lappe, 31, of Medford; and nurse's aides Christina Corelli, 37, of East Patchogue, Patricia DiGiovanni, 62, of Port Jefferson and Leona Gordon, 35, of Medford.

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Joseph, who prosecutors say failed to put Rios on the ventilator, is charged with negligent homicide -- the most serious crime.

She and other employees allegedly failed to respond to audible and visual alarms triggered by a pulse oximeter attached to Rios' finger.

The alarms continued for nearly two hours, with beeps sounding every 15 seconds, prosecutors said.

Gordon, charged with monitoring patient alarms in the ventilator unit, is accused of ignoring Rios' distress signals while sitting at the nursing station.

Attorneys for the employees and the nursing home, which was also indicted, entered not-guilty pleas before State Supreme Court Justice John B. Collins.

The judge released the defendants without setting bail. They are scheduled to return to court on July 17.

Assistant Attorney General Veronica MacDevitt declined to comment afterward.

Lawyers for the nursing home and the employees said their clients committed no crimes.

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Schneiderman's office launched a criminal investigation after an employee anonymously reported the death. The 46-count Suffolk County grand jury indictment was handed up May 23.

"I believe it's an empty indictment," said Hauppauge attorney Ray Perini, representing Caldwell. "We're looking forward to going before 12 jurors to get her reputation back."

Recovering from pneumonia, Rios was admitted to the facility about six weeks before her death for rehabilitation.

Rios' family was initially told by the for-profit, 320-bed nursing home that she died of a heart attack, her daughter Michelle Giamarino said.Giamarino, of Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, said yesterdayThursday that she's relieved the process to bring justice for her mother has begun. She said she's saddened by what happened, not angry.

"I put that aside," she said. "Sorrow, yes. But you move on."

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