Section: CAPITAL REGION Page: B1 Date: Tuesday, October 21, 1997
ELDERLY PATIENTS TARGETS OF THEFTBECHETTA JACKSON Staff writer
Caption: PAUL BUCKOWSKI/TIMES UNION RUTH LEWIS, left, and Shirley Thilking say their late mother, Sally Mornhineway, was the victim of theft in her Johnsonville home.
Relatives of an elderly woman whose personal belongings were allegedly stolen by a home health care aide as the woman lay dying say they won't rest until the aide loses her certification.
``We trusted her,'' said Ruth Lewis, whose 79-year-old mother, Sally Mornhineway, died last Monday after a long bout with lymph node cancer. ``We want her license taken away so she can't work in someone else's home and do this again,'' Lewis said of the nurse's aide. Charged with petit larceny in the case is Sharon Brown, 32, of Turf Mobile Park in Clifton Park, who had been working in Mornhineway's Johnsonville home for approximately one month. The Mornhineway case may suggest how vulnerable senior citizens can be, says Frances Tarlton, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department. New York is one of 35 states around the nation that does not require criminal background checks on nurse's aides such as Brown, who are certified to assist nurses in caring for nursing home residents and sometimes double as home health care aides. In June, legislators in Albany County made a move toward reform by passing ``Kathy's Law,'' which requires background checks for day-care and home-care workers.
The law, which took effect August 1, mandates that any agency under contract with Albany County pay $50 for a state criminal records check for each employee. In addition, agencies are charged another $25 for a federal records check, said Legislator Gary Domalewicz, the Albany Democrat who sponsored the law that is named for a comatose Rochester nursing home patient who was raped and impregnated by a nurse's aide. In trying to guard against neglect and theft, New York state does have a central registry that lists the names of any nurse's aide convicted of a crime. The names are circulated to nursing homes, home-care agencies and hospitals throughout the state. Health care agencies are required by law to check the registry before hiring aides, Tarlton said. Those who are named are banned from working in the state. There are currently 375 people listed on the registry, while there are some 95,000 nurse's aides certified to work in the state. All of those listed have been found guilty of some type of patient abuse or neglect ranging from physical and verbal abuse to not responding to a patient's needs. ``Families need to be very careful about who they let in their homes,'' Tarlton said. ``They need to get solid references and try to find out as much as possible about the background of the person before hiring them.''
Health Department officials have no figures to indicate how common cases of patient abuse are because it's not something they're required to keep track of, she said. Officials acknowledge, though, that many thefts go unreported by senior citizens because they fear that if they report the crime they'll lose the assistance of an aide. ``It's primarily the responsibility of the home-care agencies to make sure they properly screen and train the aides,'' Tarlton said. Agencies that fail to do so risk being cited by the Health Department. Brown, the woman accused, has been charged with three counts of petit larceny, a misdemeanor, and is scheduled to be arraigned at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Pittstown Town Court, said Trooper Edward Farron of the State Police in Brunswick. Farron says Brown admitted taking approximately $50 in cash, as well as a 35mm camera from the Mornhineway's house when he stopped Brown in her car last week to question her about the missing items. Brown's attorney, Randall Kehoe of Albany, said she was given an appearance ticket and will plead not guilty at her arraignment. Kehoe said Brown is in ``good standing'' with the state Department of Health as a residential health care nurse's aide and has associations with at least two Capital Region agencies. Rensselaer County Hospice referred Brown to the family after she was recommended by Accent Health Care Services in Troy where she worked part time, Lewis said. Officials at the health care service did not return repeated phone calls Monday.