The former nursing director of an assisted-living home in Chester was charged yesterday with allowing a patient's head wound to fester and fill with maggots, then falsifying medical records to hide the neglect.
Donna Marie Cameron, 39, of Aston, Delaware County, was charged with criminal neglect, perjury and tampering with records at St. James Retirement and Rehabilitation Center, the now-shuttered facility where she worked in 2005.
Two coworkers, who allegedly altered medical records and lied to a state grand jury about the case, were charged Monday with perjury and tampering with evidence.
It is unusual for state authorities to prosecute officials of assisted-living facilities, which are regulated far more loosely than nursing homes.
"The gross negligence displayed in this case is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," Attorney General Tom Corbett said in a statement.
Nancy J. Curtis, 51, of Swarthmore, the home's former administrator, and Caroline M. Tribbey, 57, of Brookhaven, the manager of its nursing unit, were arraigned in a Harrisburg courtroom and released on their own recognizance.
Curtis' lawyer declined to comment yesterday. Tribbey's lawyer, William J. Fulton of Harrisburg, said she would "aggressively defend" herself against the charges.
Cameron, arraigned yesterday in municipal court in Chester, was released on $50,000 unsecured bail. Efforts to reach her and her lawyer were unsuccessful yesterday.
Authorities say Cameron, the home's sole nurse, failed to properly treat a deep forehead wound sustained by a 72-year-old patient in June 2005. By September, the wound had worsened and the woman was taken to the emergency room at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, where nurses found more than 50 maggots in the wound.
The woman has since recovered and is living in another assisted-living facility.
In order to hide the poor care from regulators, authorities charge, Cameron later altered medical charts to falsely represent that workers had treated the wound with antibiotic ointment and that they regularly changed dressings.
The original records, given to the hospital when the woman was admitted, did not contain those entries, authorities said.
State investigators who seized a computer in Cameron's office say her typed nursing notes, variously dated June, July and Sept. 12, were actually created Sept. 20.
The arrests coincide with a campaign by the Department of Public Welfare to step up enforcement of regulations at assisted-living homes, which have long been subject to less-than-vigorous oversight, state officials say.
Last year, the welfare department closed St. James after citing it for unsanitary conditions and alleged mistreatment of residents.
The case was investigated by Supervisory Special Agent Kevin Cobourn of the Attorney General's Norristown office.
The St. James facility opened in 1996 on the site of the former St. James High School. It had been operated by a prominent Delaware County real estate developer, William B. Strine.
A lawyer for the home, Joseph F. Murphy, has said the operators did nothing wrong and always acted in residents' best interests.
Strine and his brother, Walter M. Strine, have a history of regulatory trouble while operating elder-care facilities, all of which have been closed.
In 2000, Walter Strine was banned from doing business with Medicare and other federal health programs. Inspectors from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services blamed Strine for substandard care at three facilities, saying in a statement he "pressured the nursing homes to continue to admit new residents" even though the homes' own administrators said they lacked enough qualified staff.
In 1998, after a severely disabled 75-year-old woman was fatally scalded in a bathtub at the family's Chester Care Center, a Strine family partnership paid $500,000 in a settlement with the U.S. Attorney's Office. A worker at the home was convicted of manslaughter in the case.