Ex-nursing home worker charged with neglect in death

Feeding tube for woman, 89, was left connected overnight

October 22, 2004|By Julie Bell | Julie Bell,SUN STAFF

A former nursing home employee was charged with two counts of neglect yesterday in connection with the death of an 89-year-old woman who was fed to death.

In an indictment handed up by a Baltimore grand jury, Augustine Okafor, 48, of the 3400 block of Maryvale Road was accused of intentionally not providing necessary assistance and resources for Bertha Small, who died in November 2002. She was asphyxiated by liquid nutrients after employees at Villa St. Michael Nursing and Retirement Center left a feeding tube running overnight, until the liquid exploded from her mouth and nose, according to a civil suit filed last year by Small's family.

David Baxter, Small's grandson, said he was relieved after learning of the indictment in a telephone call yesterday from Catherine Schuster Pascale, an assistant state attorney general.

"It's so wrong for older people [who are] sick and can't do for themselves to be taken advantage of like that," Baxter said. "No one deserves to die like that. She was in excruciating pain the whole time, and her needs were just simply ignored."

Okafor faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine on the first count, first-degree neglect of a vulnerable adult. The second count, a misdemeanor charge of second-degree neglect of a vulnerable adult, carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Okafor could not be reached for comment. He remains a licensed practical nurse in the state of Maryland, according to records available online. Maryland Board of Nursing officials couldn't be reached yesterday on whether he faces revocation of the license as a result of the charges.

Villa St. Michael owner Phillip Miller said yesterday that Okafor left the nursing home immediately after the incident and is no longer employed there.

"We have absolutely no tolerance for patient abuse," Miller said yesterday. "We were pleased the attorney general acted effectively on this."

The indictment does not provide details of the alleged neglect. But the medical examiner's report indicated that Small died of asphyxia due to overfeeding, and a lawsuit filed by Small's family alleges that the tube was turned on by a night nurse and left running into the next morning. Small received more than eight times the amount of nutrients her doctor had prescribed, leaving her moaning and her abdomen distended, the medical examiner's report said.

Small's family sued the nursing home last year, seeking $5 million in damages. Baxter referred questions about that case to family lawyer Andrew G. Slutkin, who said the suit is no longer pending but declined to characterize its resolution.

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