The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General on Thursday charged a licensed practical nurse with involuntary manslaughter in the April 13 death of Herbert R. McMaster Sr. in the nursing home at Cathedral Village, in the Upper Roxborough section of Philadelphia.
Christann S. Gainey, 30, was also charged with neglect of a care-dependent person and tampering with records for allegedly failing to provide appropriate care to McMaster, the father of former national security adviser H.R. McMaster Jr., after he fell in his room and hit his head, according to an eight-page criminal complaint.
The South Philadelphia resident then allegedly falsified records to make it seem as if she had completed the required neurological checks on McMaster, going so far as to mark one as done at 7:20 a.m. on April 13, 20 minutes after the 84-year-old was found dead in his wheelchair.
"I falsified that one," Gainey told Cathedral Village's assistant director of nursing, "because I didn't want the next nurse to have to do them," according to the complaint. Gainey was employed by General Healthcare Resources, a Plymouth Meeting medical-staffing firm.
"We will hold her accountable for failing to do her job and lying about it," state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference in Center City.
Shapiro directed questions of whether Cathedral Village had adequate staffing that night — as McMaster perished while sitting in an open area of the facility — or whether Cathedral Village as an institution bears any responsibility for McMaster's death to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which regulates nursing homes.
"We held criminally liable the person who had direct responsibility and failed in that responsibility. That's why Ms. Gainey was arrested this morning," said Shapiro, who denied that the case had received any special attention because of the prominence of the victim's son.
The state health department said it has an open investigation and could not comment.
Sharon Piper Donovan, Gainey's lawyer, said: "Based on the complaint these allegations seem more appropriate in a civil court rather than a criminal one. Ms. Gainey is a single mother and was simply doing her job. She had nothing to do with causing the death of Mr. McMaster."
Martin S. Kardon, a Center City lawyer representing McMaster's estate, suggested there could be wider responsibility.
"It's not the act of a rogue employee who was working the graveyard shift. I certainly don't condone it, and the attorney general is doing the right thing, but there's more to it than just that. That's what we're going to find out," said Kardon, who has a separate wrongful-death suit against a Chester County nursing home with the same corporate parent, Presbyterian Senior Living.
Letitia McMaster, a daughter, called the charges an important step in a bid to prevent others from suffering the way her father did.
McMaster Sr., a retired Army lieutenant colonel, went to Cathedral Village, a nonprofit retirement community owned by Presbyterian Senior Living, on April 9 for rehabilitation after a stroke.
A nursing assistant found McMaster on the floor of his room late on April 12, with open wounds on his right temple and right shoulder. He was still alive when two nursing assistants put him in the wheelchair and alerted their superiors. A second nursing assistant found him dead at 7 a.m. the next day in the facilities front lobby, where he was taken to be observed.
Gainey's employer, General Healthcare Resources, did not respond to a request for comment.
In recent years, Cathedral Village's 133-bed nursing home has had an uptick in deficiencies cited by health inspectors during annual inspections, federal records show. The nursing home had seven deficiencies in its licensing survey in January 2017, up from six in March 2016, zero in January 2015, and one in January 2014.
The nursing home is part of a continuing-care retirement community with 282 apartments. Presbyterian Senior Living, based in Dillsburg, Pa., acquired the entire 33-acre facility near the Montgomery County line at 600 E. Cathedral Rd. in June 2015. It opened in 1979 with the support of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.
A spokeswoman for Cathedral Village said the organization had been working closely with law enforcement since McMaster's death and "will continue to cooperate with the attorney general's prosecution of the nonemployee nurse arrested today."
If convicted, Gainey could be sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison for the neglect charge and 2½ to 5 years in prison for the involuntary manslaughter and tampering charges, Shapiro said.