A call from the White House to the Philadelphia Police Department kicked off a criminal investigation into the April 13 death of Herbert R. McMaster Sr. at Cathedral Village, according to testimony Tuesday at the preliminary hearing for Christann S. Gainey, a licensed practical nurse who was charged in McMaster’s death.
Albert Chu, deputy chief medical examiner, testified that Lt. Philip Riehl called him April 16 and told him the White House had called the homicide department regarding the death of McMaster, the 84-year-old father of former national security adviser H.R. McMaster Jr.
“I don’t know when the White House contacted Lt. Riehl,” Chu said during cross-examination by Gainey’s lawyer, Sharon Piper. He said there was no attempt to influence his autopsy report, which concluded that McMaster died from the “blunt-force trauma” of hitting his head when he fell late on April 12. The internal bleeding was significant “enough to distort the surface of the brain,” Chu said.
A homicide detective was assigned to the case on April 19.
Christopher Jason, a deputy in the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General who is prosecuting the case against Gainey along with Nathan Guinta, said in court that he had not previously known about the call from the White House. It was documented in a supplement to Chu’s autopsy report. H.R. McMaster Jr. was fired in March and replaced in April.
The state Attorney General’s Office on May 10 charged Gainey, 30, who was employed by a Plymouth Meeting temp agency, with neglect of a care-dependent person, involuntary manslaughter, and falsification of records, alleging that Gainey did not perform any of the required neurological checks on McMaster after his fall.
Tuesday’s preliminary hearing before Municipal Court Judge Karen Y. Simmons provided some additional details on conditions at Cathedral Village during the last night of McMaster’s stay. The retirement community in the Upper Roxborough section of Philadelphia includes a nursing home that is open to nonresidents. McMaster went there for care following a stroke.
One of three nursing assistants scheduled to work the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift that started on April 12 was two hours late for work and then took a two-hour nap during the shift, Piper alleged, limiting the amount of care available for the 39 patients on the first floor of Cathedral Village’s rehabilitation wing.
Because McMaster had four falls between 9:45 p.m. on April 9 and 1:55 a.m. on April 12, he was supposed to have one-on-one care, testified Syreeta Carter, who was Cathedral Village’s assistant director of nursing at the time. Yet, McMaster’s fall late on April 12, that allegedly led to his death, was not witnessed.
Equipment that could have been used to automatically track McMaster’s vital signs was not working.
Two recent Pennsylvania Department of Health inspections, including one following McMaster’s death, found significant problems with the care at the facility, which has been owned by the nonprofit Presbyterian Senior Living since 2015.
In a report on McMaster’s death, the state department found that Cathedral Village did not properly investigate the four earlier falls, did not complete all the required neurological checks, and failed to develop plans to prevent additional falls. In an earlier report, the health department said Cathedral Village provided lax oversight of temporary staff.
A Philadelphia police spokesman declined to comment. Vanessa Morrone, White House director of regional communications, said Tuesday evening that she was still trying to gather information on the phone call.
The preliminary hearing will be continued July 9. Simmons must decide whether there is enough evidence against Gainey, who attended Tuesday’s hearing, for the case to go to trial.