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Ex-aide in Medford nursing home death testifies staff ignored warning alarms for 2 hours

An undated photo of Aurelia Rios, 72, who

An undated photo of Aurelia Rios, 72, who died at the Medford Multicare Center for Living Nursing home in Medford. Photo Credit: James Carbone

A former nurse's aide at a Medford nursing home testified Monday that on the day a patient died in 2012, the staff -- including herself -- did not respond for about two hours to audible and visual alarms notifying them the woman was in distress.

Maria Borgatta, 36, of Suffolk, took the stand at the trial of five health care workers charged in the resident's death and said she was working on the ventilator unit at Medford Multicare Center for Living on Oct. 26, 2012, the day Aurelia Rios died. Borgatta said she heard the machine that monitored Rios' pulse and blood-oxygen levels beep, and saw it flash a red signal continuously during that time.

The warnings, Borgatta said, were broadcast at several locations throughout the unit, including at monitors at the nurses' station, in the nurses' office and in the hallway.

Neither she nor any of the staff, Borgatta said, checked on Rios from about 1:30 a.m., when the machine that monitored Rios' vital signs began sending warnings, until about 3:45 a.m.

"I walked in. I turned on the lights. I noticed Mrs. Rios was blue in color and she was completely still, which is normally not like her," Borgatta told jurors in Riverhead.

Earlier that morning, Borgatta said she saw Christine Corelli -- a nurse's aide who was in the room with Rios and who was supposed to watch Rios and summon help when needed -- playing the video game Candy Crush and watching television.

Borgatta said Corelli had relieved another nurse's aide, Patricia DiGiovanni. Earlier in the night, Borgatta said she came into Rios' room twice and saw DiGiovanni asleep both times.

State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman's office alleged that Kethlie Joseph, 63, of Brentwood, the respiratory therapist assigned to care for Rios, failed to attach Rios to a ventilator when she went to sleep. Joseph and three nurses, he said, ignored audible and visual alarms that indicated Rios' pulse and blood-oxygen levels were low or nonexistent, and their failure to provide her care led to her death.

The four women and a fifth co-defendant, Christine Boylan, 50, a former director of respiratory therapy from Mastic, attempted to cover up Rios' death or their roles in her death by lying to state health department investigators and the nursing home, prosecutors said.

The three nurses on trial are 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, accused of failing to connect Rios to a ventilator.

Corelli, who pleaded guilty to willful violation of public health laws, is awaiting sentencing. DiGiovanni is scheduled to stand trial this summer.Two juries before State Supreme Court Justice John B. Collins spent most of Monday watching four hours of video footages from the nursing home, one view of the nurses' station on the ventilator unit and the other of the hallway outside Rios' room.

The surveillance videos, which did not record sound, showed Joseph, Lappe, Fassino and Caldwell busy at work, including doing paperwork. The footage also showed all four women did not respond to the alarms, which Borgatta said could be heard from anywhere on the unit.

The four women were also seen standing within feet of the monitors that flashed the red box with Rios' name, room number and other information, indicating she needed to be tended to.

However, no one did, including Borgatta.

"Yes, her alarm went off and I didn't pay attention," Borgatta said.


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