3 certified nurse aides indicted for physically abusing patients

Thursday is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and New Jersey marked it by "announcing indictments against three certified nurse aides accused of physically abusing patients in the residential care facilities where they worked."

According to Attorney General Christopher Porrino and the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor, Cairy Chrisphonte, 54, of Union, was indicted June 8 on a charge of fourth-degree assault upon an institutionalized elderly person after co-workers allegedly witnessed her striking an 87-year-old dementia patient in the head and arm at the Daughters of Miriam nursing home in Clifton in January.

Also, Debra L. Matela, 44, of Turnersville, was indicted June 6 on a charge of third-degree aggravated assault after a surveillance camera at the Northbrook Behavioral Health Hospital in Blackwood purportedly captured her deliberately causing a 73-year-old woman to fall out of her wheelchair in February. According to prosecutors, Matela deliberately kicked the wheelchair out from under the woman, who resides in the facility's geriatric mental health ward, causing her to fall and hit her head.

Plus, Danny Brown, 55, of Easton, Pa., was indicted June 8 on third-degree charges of making terroristic threats and endangering another person after co-workers allegedly witnessed him punching and threatening to break the neck of a patient at the Lopatcong Care Center in Lopatcong. The patient, a 53-year-old man confined to a wheelchair, suffers from cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and congenital hydrocephaly (an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain.)

All three have been fired and stripped of their professional credentials.

"Elderly patients dependent on caregivers are among our state's most vulnerable citizens, and my office will not tolerate them being treated with anything less than compassion and respect," Attorney General Porrino said.

"The Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor is committed to investigating and prosecuting caregivers heartless enough to prey on defenseless patients, as these three defendants allegedly did," Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Christopher Iu said.

The investigations were conducted by OIFP's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, which receives federal money to investigate and prosecute Medicaid provider fraud as well as the abuse or neglect Medicaid patients, or patients who reside in facilities that receive Medicaid funding.

State officials say historically, MFCU actions have centered on financial exploitation cases, but in recent months the office has turned greater attention to the physical abuse of institutionalized patients.