Nurse's Aide Pleads Guilty In Freezing Death of Alzheimer's Patient Who Wandered From Nursing Home

A former nursing assistant tearfully apologized Monday for allowing an 89-year-old nursing home patient to freeze to death last winter after she wandered out of the home.

The aide never checked a door alarm that sounded about 2 a.m. on Feb. 5 when the barefoot resident left the nursing home while temperatures hovered near zero.

“I’m so sorry,’’ the aide said, her voice breaking as she turned in the courtroom to face the resident's relatives, including two of her daughters. “She was a wonderful person and she will always be in my heart.”

The aide, 24, offered the apology after pleading guilty to criminal neglect and obstruction of justice in the death, which an autopsy concluded was caused by hypothermia.

As part of her plea deal, she was given credit for the six months in jail that she has served since her arrest and also was placed on probation for 30 months.

She had faced up to five years in prison.

The plea deal brought little comfort to family members, who said the penalty wasn’t severe enough given the agonizing death suffered by the elderly Alzheimer’s patient, who was prone to wandering out of the nursing home.

“I feel as if the sentence should have been harsher,’’ said one of three daughters, who nonetheless said she believed the aide was remorseful.

“I believe her apology is sincere, but it’s too late,” the daughter said. “It’s far too late.”

The Alzheimer's patient triggered the door alarm on Feb. 5 as she walked through an exit into an outdoor courtyard at the home, the prosecutor said.

The aide didn’t check the door as required, but simply turned off the alarm and continued watching the TV program “Dog: The Bounty Hunter,” the prosecutor said.

It was only hours later at 5 a.m. that she conducted a bed check and found the elderly woman missing. She was later discovered dead in the courtyard, where she apparently had suffered injuries to her chin and leg in a fall that prevented her from walking.

“It appears she tried to crawl back towards the door,’’ the prosecutor said.

A police investigation found evidence that the aide and other workers tried to hide how the woman died by returning her to her room and changing her clothes, though no other workers were ever charged in her death. For more, read the story.

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Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.

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