Nurses aide guilty of choking patient, 81 Assault occurred in first month on job

February 15, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

An aide who choked an 81-year-old patient in a Towson nursing home has been convicted of battery -- the latest victory for the attorney general's office in a battle against abuse by care-givers.

Authorities said Sandra H. Ferguson, 47, a nurses aide from Essex, attacked and choked Edna Gaines because the elderly resident of the Armacost Nursing Home had taken her cigarettes.

Assistant Attorney General Timothy U. Sharpe, who prosecuted the case, said his Medicaid Fraud and Control Unit office receives about 250 complaints of patient abuse each year.

Of the 49 cases brought to trial since the office first took on the problem in 1989, he said, all but one resulted in conviction.

Mr. Sharpe testified in Annapolis recently in support of bills requiring the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to conduct criminal background investigations of applicants for nursing home jobs.

But Ms. Ferguson had no criminal record when she was hired by the nursing home on Regester Avenue. She had been there about two weeks when the attack occurred Dec. 18, 1984, authorities said.

She found that the patient, suffering from dementia, had taken a package of cigarettes from her purse, removed some and crushed them, according to prosecutors and testimony.

Ms. Ferguson began yelling at Ms. Gaines, then tried to wrench the cigarettes from the patient's hand, called her insulting names, grabbed her by the throat and slammed her head against the back of her chair hard enough that her feet came off the floor, Mr. Sharpe said.

Another aide saw the attack and reported it to a supervisor, and Ms. Ferguson was subsequently fired, Mr. Sharpe said.

Ms. Ferguson was convicted twice: in county District Court, and then on an appeal to Circuit Court, where Judge Alfred L. Brennan Sr. found her guilty of one count of battery Monday.

She was fined $150, given a 30-day suspended term and barred from health-care employment during two years' probation.

Ms. Ferguson testified that she was trying to remove fragments of her last $10 bill from Ms. Gaines' mouth when the assault occurred, said her lawyer, Gerald A. Zimlin.

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