Seventeen employees of the Highpointe on Michigan Health Care Facility in Buffalo, New York were arrested and charged in April 2014 with neglecting a 56-year-old resident under their care. The male patient suffers from Huntington chorea, a neurological disease that makes him bedridden and totally dependent on staff members for his care. The eight nurses and nine nursing assistants faced a variety of charges, including Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree (a class E felony), Endangering the Welfare of an Incompetent or Physically Disabled Person in the First Degree (a class E felony), and Willful Violation of Public Health Laws. The felony charges carry a criminal penalty of up to four years in prison. A spokesperson from the Highpointe facility said that the 17 employees were fired “for neglectful care of one resident,” and cooperated with investigators in the matter.
According to officials, after a hidden video camera was placed in the patient’s room, footage from the camera revealed a pattern of neglect by the staff. For instance, the footage uncovered that employees failed to dispense medication on certain dates. In another instance, staff members didn’t provide liquids or proper incontinence care. Moreover, the video reveals that the patient went unattended for long periods of time. Staff members then covered up their neglect by falsifying the patient’s medical records.
Commenting on the 17 arrests, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman remarked, “Nursing home residents are among our state’s most vulnerable citizens, and the perpetual neglect in this case is shameful. The charges filed send the message that my office will not tolerate anyone being neglected by those responsible for his or her care. We will use every tool in our arsental, including hidden cameras, to ensure that nursing home residents receive the care they need and the respect they deserve.”
Cori A. Gambini, president of Local 1168 of the Communication Workers of America, stated that six of the employees arrested are union members. She commented, “If the allegations are true, that can’t be tolerated.” The union planned to meet with the six terminated employees to determine what actions to take.
Jacqueline Livingston, whose mother was a patient at the facility, stated that her mother’s death in April 2013 was due to improper care. She met with state Health Department officials after filing a complaint that alleged her mother was living in unsanitary conditions, and wasn’t having her special dietary and medical needs met. Livingston stated, “I once found my mother in a diabetic coma there. They had been giving her foods that she should not have received as a diabetic: milkshakes and desserts.”
Highpointe is a 300-bed facility. The eight nurses charged are: Natalie Galbo, Shateeka Stevens, Michael Howell, Heidi Bowens, Rochelle McNeair-Tisdale, Jamie Cunningham, Cynthia Kozlowski, and Marlene Sims. The nine nursing assistants arrested are: Rabetta Harrell, Nicole Baker, Tiffany Heard-Williams, Rue Teasha McCray, Kenissa Henderson, Maria Robinson, Margaret Glass, Amanda Stuart, and Hazell Clegatt.