Health & Medicine

Former Richmond nursing home aide is charged with neglect

Jaclyn Dawn VanWinkle, a former nurse's aide at Madison Manor Nursing Home in Richmond, who was arrested in connection with actions caught on a hidden video camera, denies charges that she neglected an 84-year-old former resident of the home.

"I think I took very good care of Mrs. (Armeda) Thomas," VanWinkle, 25, said in a telephone interview Thursday. "I've done nothing wrong."

VanWinkle was arrested Wednesday and charged with wanton neglect. She said an investigator from Attorney General Jack Conway's office told her that as many as eight of her former co-workers — none now work at the facility — also face criminal charges.

"I was charged with neglect because the videotape showed me singing and dancing," VanWinkle said. "They said it looked like I was taunting her. They said I was being disrespectful."

Shelley Johnson, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the criminal investigation is continuing.

Armeda Thomas' family members hid a video camera in her room without the nursing home's knowledge for three weeks after they discovered 36 bruises all over her body and didn't get satisfactory answers from the staff.

The videotape shows nursing assistants at Madison Manor physically abusing and taunting Thomas, of Irvine, and failing to feed and clean her, according to state records.

VanWinkle is not charged with physically abusing Thomas. State records concerning the investigation refer to an occurrence in which a nursing assistant danced in front of Thomas while one other staff member held the resident's arms.

Cindi Simpson, a spokeswoman for Extendicare, the Wisconsin-based company that owns Madison Manor, said that nine nursing assistants have been fired and that there have been other staff changes, as well as retraining, since the incidents were filmed.

"We have terminated any employees seen acting inappropriately toward this resident," said Simpson, "We don't condone this kind of behavior."

'Part of daily routine'

VanWinkle said the singing and dancing showed on the videotape was neither disrespect nor neglect and might have been misunderstood because it was not accompanied by sound.

"It was part of my daily routine with her, to get her to get up, get dressed, go to the rest room."

VanWinkle did not have her certified nursing assistant's license at the time of the alleged incident, she said, although she had completed her training.

Under state regulations, she was allowed to work at the nursing home for a certain time period without passing a competency test. Nursing home officials said she passed her test Sept. 8.

An investigator from Conway's office also told VanWinkle that her failure to use a safety belt, called a gait belt, when transferring Armeda Thomas from her bed to a wheelchair also constituted neglect, she said.

However, VanWinkle said supervisors should have told her to use the gait belt.

"I like working with the elderly. I like taking care of people," said VanWinkle, who took the job at Madison Manor in the spring and began classes at the facility to get her license.

VanWinkle said she was suspended in October and fired in November.

The arrest came as a shock, she said.

"My grandmother is in a nursing home," VanWinkle said. "She has Alzheimer's and dementia. I visit her every day."

Cared for at home

Thomas, of Irvine, died in November of complications from Alzheimer's disease. Family members cared for her at home after they discovered how she was treated.

Deb Hamilton, Thomas' granddaughter, said Thursday that nursing home workers should be held accountable for their behavior.

"There need to be consequences," Hamilton said. "Maybe it's a facility that fostered an environment where they didn't have adequate training and quality of care. Co-workers didn't feel comfortable coming forward."

VanWinkle, of Richmond, was released Wednesday night on $7,500 bond. She said she is scheduled to appear in court Monday.

In March 2007, she pleaded guilty to a charge of public intoxication with a controlled substance, a misdemeanor, and paid $177 in court costs, according to Madison Court records.

In October she was charged with public intoxication, but the charge was dismissed.

Wrongful-death suit

In a separate case, the family of Teresa Kay Ritter, who died in September 2007 after a two-month stay at Madison Manor, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the nursing home on Oct. 22. The lawsuit alleges that poor care at the facility resulted in the amputation of her left foot, renal failure and ultimately, death. Ritter also sustained unexplained bruising and lacerations, according to the lawsuit.

Lisa Circeo, the Lexington attorney who represents the family, said the Cabinet for Health and Family Services found violations of mandatory regulations with regard to Ritter and that Adult Protective Services substantiated neglect.

Circeo said her law firm had represented clients in at least eight other wrongful death lawsuits that have been filed against Extendicare facilities in Kentucky since 2006.

In the Thomas case, Madison Manor received the most serious citation a nursing home can receive. State officials say that the most serious problems have been corrected.

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