Three nursing care workers at a Columbus, Ohio nursing home have been criminally charged on charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection to the neglect of two patients in 2017. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced the charges on Thursday, February 14, 2018, which also included additional charges against four other employees of Whetstone Gardens and Care Center, a nursing facility on Columbus’ Northwest side.
Two Patients Suffered Neglect At Ohio Nursing Home
Attorney General Yost’s office filed a total of 34 criminal charges against the care workers after an investigation found that one patient’s untimely death could be attributed directly to the neglect. Investigators also determined that a second patient, who is now deceased, suffered physical harm. Neither nursing home patient has been named in public statements.
The indicted employees include:
- Sandra Blazer, 55, assistant director of nursing, who has been charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter, gross patient neglect, patient neglect and tampering with evidence, and four counts of forgery
- Jessica Caldwell, 30, a floor nurse and unit manager, who faces on count each of involuntary manslaughter, gross patient neglect and patient neglect
- Akosua Ayarkwa, 29, a floor nurse, who is charged with three counts of forgery and one count of gross patient neglect
- Sheila Dains, 53, a floor nurse, who is charged with eight counts of forgery and one count of gross patient neglect
- Illuminee Muhongere, 48, a floor nurse, who faces two counts of forgery
- Maegan Van Syckle, 39, a floor nurse, who faces four counts of forgery and one count of gross patient neglect
- Kimberly Potter, 53, a nurse practitioner contracted to work at the facility, who is charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter, gross patient neglect and patient neglect
The investigation into Whetstone Gardens and Care Center’s misconduct was conducted by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, which was tipped off to problems by a 2017 phone call from the daughter of one of the patients. She expressed serious concerns about the level of care her mother was receiving.
Patient Left To Die Of Gangrene Infection, AG Says
In a press conference, Attorney General Yost described the charges in detail. It all stems from incidents occurring in February 2017, when a male patient who investigators say died due to nursing home neglect developed severe wounds (likely bed sores) that eventually turned gangrenous.
He was subsequently moved to a hospital, though Attorney General Yost says that nurses at Whetstone Gardens delayed the transfer, where he died on March 5, 2017 from septic shock, which occurs when a serious infection contributes to dangerously-low levels of blood pressure. Attorney General Yost did not mince words in his press conference, saying, “this man literally rotted to death, and it could have been prevented.”
Forgery, Neglect & Lies
In addition to the elderly man’s untimely death, investigators also determined that a number of floor nurses at Whetstone Gardens and Care Center systematically lied about the care they were providing. While nurses and other caregivers filled out documents saying they had provided care to a female patient, the care was never actually administered, Attorney General Yost said in his statements: “they said they provided it and they did not.” Apparently, the patient’s medical records featured multiple forged signatures. These medical records also claimed that the patient received care when she wasn’t even living at the facility.
Attorney General: Whetstone Gardens Put Patients At Risk Of Serious Harm
The investigation, completed on April 10, 2017, found that Whetstone Gardens and Care Center put the female patient, along with its 122 other residents, at risk of serious harm. The facility was ordered to take immediate action to resolve the problems. Investigators say the neglect began on February 21, 2017 and lasted for a five-day period. In part, the investigation found that treatments for a bed sore from which the patient suffered were not administered, or were administered improperly.
The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare fined Whetstone Gardens a total of $98,765.45.
“Every one of us has a loved one or has had a loved one who’s been in a facility,” Attorney General Yost said. “We trust the doctors and the nurses and the staff at these facilities to care for those we love the most at their most vulnerable time in life. When they turn a callous eye and ignore what’s right in front of their faces and fail to provide the services and fail to provide for our loved ones, these are crimes of the worst sort.”
Whetstone Gardens Says Problems Have Been Fixed
Interviewed by the Columbus Dispatch, Ryan Stubenrauch, a spokesperson for Whetstone Gardens and Care Center, took issue with Yost’s characterization of events. “Each and every one of our residents, their health and well-being, is and always will be our top priority,” he said. “We can assure every resident that’s there now and has been there, we have taken great care to correct the problems that led to the 2017 issue and continue to make sure that no such similar issue can ever rise again.”
Stubenrauch says that four of the indicted employees have been fired. Two other employees were suspended pending the result of legal proceedings. In addition, Stubenrauch says that a number of other employees, who were not indicted but were involved in the two patient’s care, have also been let go. But Stubenrauch vehemently denies that the male patient’s death was the result of neglect at the facility. “We’re confident that this man’s tragic death was not the result of neglect at our facility,” he added.