The former nursing director at an assisted-living home in Chester has been sentenced to four years' probation for allowing a patient's head wound to fester and fill with maggots, then altering medical records to try to hide her actions.
Donna Marie Cameron, 40, of Aston, Delaware County, had pleaded no contest to criminal neglect, perjury and tampering with records at St. James Retirement and Rehabilitation Center, where she worked in 2005. On Monday, Delaware County Court Judge Kenneth A. Clouse sentenced Cameron to probation and ordered her to pay $4,847 in restitution.
Two coworkers at the now-shuttered facility also were charged in the case, which law enforcement officials decried as an example of "gross negligence" in medical care.
As The Inquirer reported in February, state oversight of assisted-living facilities has historically been lax. Since 2000, scores of deaths and untold injuries in such homes have raised questions about the quality of care in some facilities. In recent months, state regulators have stepped up enforcement and added inspectors.
In the St. James case, Nancy J. Curtis, 52, of Swarthmore, the home's former administrator, pleaded no contest to perjury, tampering with records and unsworn falsification in October and was sentenced to four years' probation.
Caroline M. Tribbley, 58, of Brookhaven, manager of the home's nursing unit, pleaded guilty in September to false swearing and tampering with records and evidence and was sentenced to one year of probation.
The state Attorney General's Office, which prosecuted the case, said it sent a message that substandard care at assisted-living facilities would not be tolerated.
"Any time you're dealing with neglect of an older Pennsylvanian, we take those things extremely seriously," said Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for Attorney General Tom Corbett. "Any time we get information about these cases, we prosecute them vigorously."
Authorities say Cameron, the sole nurse at St. James, failed to properly treat a deep head wound suffered by a 72-year-old patient in June 2005. Three months later, the wound had worsened, and the woman was taken to Crozer-Chester Medical Center, where nurses found 50 maggots crawling inside the wound.
To hide the poor medical care from state regulators, Cameron altered medical charts to falsely represent that the woman's head wound had been treated with antibiotic ointment and that the dressing had been changed regularly.
Efforts to reach Cameron were unsuccessful yesterday. Her attorney, Peter F.X. Callahan, said she "panicked" after the incident and "foolishly" altered records. He said Cameron, a registered nurse, was overwhelmed by her duties as the only nurse at a facility with more than 150 patients.
"There were no charges of intentional abuse," he said. "Nor were there allegations of life-threatening harm to the patient."
The patient has since recovered and is living in another assisted-living facility. Her family has sued St. James, its owners and the woman's caregivers, including Cameron.
State regulators closed the facility in April 2006 after citing it for several violations, including unsanitary conditions and alleged mistreatment of residents.
A lawyer for the home, Joseph F. Murphy, has said the home's operators did nothing wrong.