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Nurse on trial in nursing home death took care of patient who died, her attorney says

Kimberly Lappe, who is charged with ignoring audible

Kimberly Lappe, who is charged with ignoring audible signals that resulted in a patient's death at Medford Multicare Center for Living, is shown at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

A nurse on trial in the death of a 72-year-old Medford nursing home resident helped the woman, who used a wheelchair, with her intimate needs then cleaned her up -- not the conduct of an uncaring worker who ignored a patient in distress as state prosecutors alleged, the nurse's attorney said Tuesday during summations in Riverhead.

The attorney, Scott Gross of Garden City, told jurors it doesn't make sense that his client, Kimberly Lappe, 33, of Southold, spent nearly an hour tending to patient Aurelia Rios' bowel movement in the hours before Rios died on Oct. 26, 2012. But, then ignored audible and visual alarms that indicated Rios' pulse and blood-oxygen levels were low or nonexistent.

"Look at the care she provided," Gross said.

State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman's office alleged that Kethlie Joseph, 63, a respiratory nurse, didn't follow Rios' doctor's orders and failed to connect Rios to a ventilator, putting in motion a chain of events that lead to Rios' death.

Prosecutors also alleged that Joseph, Lappe and two other nurses ignored audible and visual alarms for nearly two hours, from 1:40 a.m. to 3:36 a.m., that indicated Rios' pulse and blood-oxygen levels were low or nonexistent. The staff's failure to provide care to Rios during that time contributed to her death, prosecutors said.

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

In addition to Joseph, Lappe, and Boylan, the other two nurses on trial are Victoria Caldwell, 52, of Medford and Marianne Fassino, 54, of Shirley. All five women face various charges, including neglect and falsifying business records. Joseph is the only defendant charged with criminally negligent homicide.

Gross was one of three defense attorneys who delivered his summations Tuesday before state Supreme Court Justice John B. Collins. The fourth defense attorney, Ray Perini of Hauppauge, and state prosecutors are scheduled to give closing arguments Wednesday.

Justice Collins ordered one trial with two juries, one jury for Joseph's case and one for the four co-defendants.

Joseph's attorney, Jonathan Manley, delivered his summation Monday and the jury in Joseph's case began deliberations late Monday and continued Tuesday without reaching a verdict. They will continue their work Wednesday.

All three attorneys urged the jury to disregard the prosecution's two key witnesses, Leona Gordon and Maria Borgatta, nurses' aides who were on duty the day Rios died.

Both women testified that the machine that monitored Rios' vital signs sent audible and visual alerts to numerous locations throughout the nursing home's ventilator unit for more than two hours.

The defense attorneys said Gordon and Borgatta can't be trusted, because the women have lied numerous times and because they have motives to say what prosecutors wanted them to.

In Borgatta's case, defense attorneys said, prosecutors did not bring charges against her in exchange for her cooperation.

Gordon, who was charged in connection with Rios' death, was allowed to plead guilty to a crime that let her avoid jail and make it less likely that she would be deported and separated from her U.S.-born children.

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