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Former Medford nursing home worker: I was told resident died because defendant failed to attach her to ventilator

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

A former Medford nursing home employee testified Tuesday at the trial of five health care workers in Riverhead that he was told a resident there died in 2012 because one of the defendants failed to attach her to a ventilator.

Stephen Shanahan, 60, of Selden, a respiratory therapist who worked at Medford Multicare Center for Living from 2004 to 2013, said when he learned that the resident, Aurelia Rios, 72, died on Oct. 26, 2012, he confronted his supervisor, Christine Boylan, one of the defendants on trial.

"She said Kethlie [Joseph] never put her on the [ventilator]," Shanahan said, recalling what Boylan allegedly told him at the time.

Boylan's attorney, William Kephart of Garden City, said his client did not speak to Shanahan about the circumstances that led to Rios' death.

"Contrary to what Mr. Shanahan testified to, once he's finished testifying, it will become clear that these alleged conversations never took place," Kephart said Tuesday outside court.

Shanahan, who has been testifying for two days before state Supreme Court Justice John B. Collins, is scheduled to return on Friday to face additional questioning by defense attorneys.

Rios' death certificate indicated she died from a heart attack, and no autopsy was conducted because by the time the state Health Department's investigation started, her body had already been cremated.

The circumstances that led to Rios' death came to light when Shanahan reported it to the state health department on Nov. 5, 2012.

State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman's office alleged that Joseph didn't connect Rios to her ventilator when Rios went to bed on the night of Oct. 25, 2012, as ordered by her doctor, Igor Gutnik.

Gutnik's order provided ventilator settings for the hours when Rios was asleep and when she was awake, and indicated that she needed to be attached to a ventilator. However, the box next to "nocturnal" was not checked off.

Joseph's attorney, Jonathan Manley of Hauppauge, said during his opening arguments that because the box next to "nocturnal" was not marked, Gutnik's order meant Rios didn't need to be connected to a ventilator from Oct. 24, 2012, onward.

Joseph and three nurses ignored audible and visual alarms for nearly two hours that indicated Rios' pulse and blood-oxygen levels were low or nonexistent, state prosecutors said. Their failure to provide Rios care during that time led to her death, prosecutors contend. Rios died in the early hours of Oct. 26, 2012.

State prosecutors also alleged that Joseph, Boylan and the nurses attempted to cover up Rios' death or their roles in her death by lying to investigators from the state Health Department and the nursing home, which launched separate inquiries.

In addition to Joseph, 63, of Brentwood, and Boylan, 50, of Mastic, former director of respiratory therapy, the other three defendants charged were 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 one charged with criminally negligent homicide.

Collins is holding one trial but with two juries, one for Joseph and one for the four co-defendants.On Tuesday, jurors also got to see a video recording that showed Rios sitting in her wheelchair talking to the nursing staff several hours before she died.

Rios, who had been slowly weaned off the ventilator, was making progress, said Shanahan, who last cared for Rios on Oct. 19, a week before she died.

"She was doing spectacular," he said.

Shanahan also testified that he saw Boylan holding logs of the machine that recorded Rios' vital signs.

Boylan "just said the alarms went off every 30 seconds for two hours," said Shanahan.

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