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Nurse's aide says she summoned help once for Medford nursing home resident who died in 2012

Kethlie Joseph, of Brentwood, arrives at Suffolk County

Kethlie Joseph, of Brentwood, arrives at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Monday, May 4, 2015. Joseph is one of nine health care workers charged in the death of a Medford nursing home resident who died on Oct. 26, 2012. Credit: James Carbone

An aide working the day a Medford nursing home resident died in 2012 testified Tuesday that she only summoned help once as the system monitoring the woman's vital signs sent visual and audible notifications for more than two hours.

Former nurse's aide Leona Gordon said that on Oct. 26, 2012, the day Aurelia Rios, 72, died, her main job was to sit in the nurse's station, watch a monitor and page the nursing staff if Rios or any of the other 39 residents on the ventilator unit at Medford Multicare Center needed medical attention.

Gordon said although no one responded to her page, she didn't notify the six nurses and two respiratory therapists seen on the nursing home's video surveillance camera walking in and out of the nurse's station dozens of times during those two hours and 20 minutes.

"How many times did you stop them and ask them to check on Rios?" said Jonathan Manley of Hauppauge, attorney for one of the defendants, Kethlie Joseph, who is on trial in Riverhead.

"I didn't," Gordon replied.

Manley asked Gordon whether she flagged Joseph, who walked past Gordon twice from a distance of about 3 feet.

"No, I didn't," Gordon said. "I shouldn't have to."

Earlier in her testimony, Gordon said she assumed the respiratory therapist and nurses caring for Rios were aware Rios needed help because they were notified via pagers and other means.

Gordon, who was one of 10 defendants arrested and charged in Rios' death, testified against her co-workers as part of a plea deal with prosecutors to avoid jail time.

State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman's office alleged that Joseph, a respiratory therapist from Brentwood, and three nurses ignored audible and visual alarms that indicated Rios' pulse and blood-oxygen levels were low or nonexistent, and their failure to provide her care then led to her death.

Prosecutors also alleged that the four women and a fifth co-defendant attempted to cover up Rios' death or their roles in it by lying to investigators from the state Health Department and the nursing home.

The circumstances surrounding Rios' death came to light when Stephen Shanahan, a respiratory therapist at the nursing home, reported her death to the state health department on Nov. 5, 2012.

Besides Joseph, the other four employees on trial are Christine Boylan, 50, of Mastic, former director of respiratory therapy, and three nurses -- Victoria Caldwell, 52, of Medford, Marianne Fassino, 54, of Shirley, and Kimberly Lappe, 33, of Southold.

All five women face various charges, including neglect and falsifying business records.

Joseph is the only employee charged with criminally negligent homicide for allegedly failing to connect Rios to a ventilator.

A second nurse's aide had also pleaded guilty and the remaining defendants are scheduled to stand trial this summer before State Supreme Court Justice John B. Collins, the same judge presiding over this trial.

Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Veronica Bindrim-MacDevitt played the hourslong videotape for jurors.

From 1:26 a.m., when the system that monitored Rios' vital signs began to send out alerts, to 3:44 a.m., when it was answered, Gordon said she was listening to music on her phone.

"What are you doing?" Bindrim-MacDevitt asked as Gordon watched the video.

"Dancing," Gordon replied.

On cross-examination by Manley, Gordon said she was aware Rios needed to be attached to a ventilator, but didn't tell the nursing staff that she saw Rios wasn't connected to her ventilator when Gordon checked on the patients at the start of her shift at 11 p.m. on Oct. 25, 2012.

Gordon also admitted she had lied to investigators from the state Health Department and the attorney general's office on several occasions since she was questioned about Rios' death.

Gordon is scheduled to testify again Wednesday, when she will face additional questioning from Manley and the other four defense attorneys.

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