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5 ex-workers at Medford nursing home get jail time in patient's death

The Medford Multicare Center at 3115 Horseblock Rd.

The Medford Multicare Center at 3115 Horseblock Rd. in Medford is shown on July 31, 2014. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Five ex-health care workers convicted of various crimes -- one for failing to attach a patient to a ventilator and the others for attempting to cover up the circumstances that led to her death in 2012 -- were sentenced Wednesday to jail terms ranging from 45 days up to 9 months.

Michelle Giamarino -- who was told by the staff of Medford Multicare Center for Living that her mother, Aurelia Rios, 72, of Central Islip, died of a heart attack -- sobbed as she sat in the Riverhead courtroom and listened to state Supreme Court Justice John B. Collins impose the sentences.

Even though it came three years after her mother died, Giamarino said she was grateful to finally hear four of the five women apologize to her, her two brothers, Rios' 11 grandchildren and other family members.

"I think we should be held accountable for our failures, and atone for them," Giamarino, 53, of Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, said afterward.

Before the sentencings, four workers -- respiratory therapist Kethlie Joseph, 63, of Brentwood; nurses Marianne Fassino, 54, of Shirley; Kimberly Lappe, 33, of Southold; and Victoria Caldwell, 52, of Medford -- stood facing Rios' family members and expressed regrets for not helping the ventilator-dependent resident.

Joseph, who acknowledged it was her responsibility to attach Rios to the ventilator, said there was no excuse for her failure.

"I am sorry for the loss your family has suffered," Joseph said.

Christine Boylan, 50, of Mastic, a director of respiratory therapy who was not on duty but who was convicted of a cover-up, did not address the court.

Joseph and Lappe, who were assigned to care for Rios, were each sentenced to 9 months in jail. Boylan and Fassino, who was the head nurse, each received 6 months. Caldwell, who had no role in Rios' care but who also took part in the cover-up, was sentenced to 45 days. The women also received 5 years' probation, except Joseph, who received 3 years' probation. They are all barred from working in the health care fields during their probations.

The five women are among nine former employees, along with the nursing home, who have pleaded guilty or who were convicted at trial in Rios' death on Oct. 26, 2012.

Rios was admitted to the Medford facility's short-term rehabilitation unit in September 2012 to help wean her off the ventilator, which she had depended to help breathe when asleep, state prosecutor Veronica Bindrim-MacDevitt had said.

Every night, a respiratory therapist who cared for Rios connected her to the ventilator, until Oct. 25, 2012. On that night, Joseph, who worked at the facility once or twice a month, didn't follow Rios' doctor's order to attach her patient to the ventilator through her tracheal tube.

Joseph and three nurses compounded the error, Bindrim-MacDevitt had said, when they failed to help Rios as her pulse rate and blood oxygen level dropped into dangerous territory, and the equipment monitoring her vital signs activated audible and visual alarms. For more than two hours in the early morning hours of Oct. 26, 2012, prosecutors had said, Joseph and the nurses ignored those warnings, which were sent to their pagers and to terminals set up throughout the ventilator unit.Rios was found dead in her bed by a nurse's aide checking on her about 3:30 a.m.

Before Wednesday's sentencing, many people who know the five employees, professionally and personally, wrote to Judge Collins and asked for leniency on their behalf.

Despite descriptions in the letters of the five as reliable and upstanding women who had never been in trouble with the law before, the judge said he could not excuse their behavior.

"Ms. Joseph, you failed your profession, and you failed your patient," he said.

As for Caldwell, who had no role in caring for Rios, the judge said he was baffled by her decision to help cover up the circumstances that led to Rios' death.

"I don't know how you got drawn into this, but without you there was no cover-up," Collins said.

All the women, except Caldwell, were placed in handcuffs after the judge imposed sentences, and led away to jail. Collins allowed Caldwell to remain free to care for her daughter who is in the hospital, but ordered Caldwell to surrender Nov. 12.

Although his office had recommended longer sentences for the five women, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman Wednesday said the sentences brought justice to the Rios family.

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