Attorney General Cuomo Announces Arrests And Conviction Of Four Western New York Nursing Home Employees For Abusing Patients

BUFFALO, N.Y (December 8, 2008) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the arrests of three Western New York nursing home employees and the conviction of a fourth for abusing elderly and ill patients. 

According to court records, the acts of abuse include physically attacking and using racial slurs against an 86-year-old Alzheimer’s patient, slapping a 100-year-old patient in the face, and tying an elderly patient with dementia to a chair for two consecutive nights.  The arrests and conviction stem from Attorney General Cuomo’s statewide investigations into abuse and neglect in institutional care settings.

“My office remains committed to protecting the vulnerable and defenseless by uncovering and prosecuting alleged abuses at nursing homes across the state,” said Attorney General Cuomo.  “Elderly New Yorkers deserve better than to endure suffering at the hands of those entrusted with their care.”

Corey Austin, 28, of North Main Street, Angola, was a certified nurse aide at Gowanda Nursing Home until he was terminated in February, 2007 after a violent encounter with a patient.  According to court papers, Austin used racial epithets and attacked the victim who had become agitated and defiant when another staff member tried to administer his medications. Austin assisted in taking the resident back to his room where he attacked and repeatedly pushed the resident to the floor.  Austin continued to use racial epithets, while pinning the resident to his bed with his knee in the patient’s back.

Austin was convicted of endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person (class A misdemeanor) and wilful violation of health laws (misdemeanor) after a non-jury trial before the Hon. Arnold Andolsek in Town of Persia Court, Cattaraugus County. Austin faces a maximum of two years in jail when he is sentenced on January 13, 2009.

Certified Nurse Aide Patricia Penman, 57, of Union Road, Cheektowaga, is accused of physically abusing a 100-year-old female resident of Rosa Coplon Jewish Home and Infirmary in Getzville.  The resident is suffering from dementia, physical disabilities, and is unable to care for herself.  According to court records, Penman slapped the resident in the face during care.  Penman was charged with endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person and wilful violation of health laws. The resident did not sustain an injury.

Penman was arraigned in Amherst Town Court by Judge Geoffrey Klein and pleaded not guilty.  She is due back in court on December 10, 2008. 

Certified nurse aide Jeffrey Perry, 23, of Ball Hill Road, Forestville, allegedly tied an elderly resident with dementia to a chair with a belt for two consecutive nights on August 28 and 29, 2008 at the Gowanda Nursing Home. According to court records, the resident was found left alone in his room tied to a chair with the lights off on the second night.  Licensed practical nurse Jeanette Sovereign, 45, of Meadow Lane, Eden, was working at the center during the time of the alleged incident.  She is accused of knowing that the incident occurred but not reporting it to the proper authorities.

Perry was charged with endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person and wilful violation of health laws. Sovereign was charged with wilful violation of health laws.  Both were arraigned in the Town of Persia Court by Judge Arnold Andolsek and pleaded not guilty. Both are due back in court on December 23, 2008.

Attorney General Cuomo has made protecting New York’s most vulnerable from abuses by health care professionals one of his office’s top priorities. Besides the arrests and conviction announced today, previous action taken by the Attorney General’s office against abuse and exploitation occurring in nursing homes has resulted in:

  • Sentencing of the nursing home company, Highgate LTC Management, to pay $15,000 in fines, be barred from the business for a period of time, and accept responsibility for patient neglect that occurred at its Cortland facility, which was uncovered with the use of hidden-cameras.
  • Sentencing of a former aide at the Rome Memorial Hospital Residential Health Care Facility to 25 years in prison for raping and sexually assaulting a 90-year-old resident of the nursing home.
  • Arrest of a certified nurse aide who stomped on an 84 year-old female resident of Kaleida Health Deaconess Skilled Nursing Facility in Buffalo while the resident was lying in the fetal position.
  • Arrests of two Rome nursing home employees for stealing and then pawning an engagement ring belonging to an 89-year-old resident.
  • Arrest of a certified nurse aide for sexually abusing a physically disabled patient at the Eddy Ford Nursing Home in Cohoes.
  • Sentencing of a certified nurse aide who stole $8,000 from a 97-year-old resident at The Waters of Orchard Park nursing home in Orchard Park in order to pay a debt she owed for the purchase of cocaine.
  • Arrest of a former Gates nursing home employee who allegedly stole and forged personal checks from a resident, and then deposited them in her own bank account.
  • Sentencing of certified nurse aide formerly employed at the Blossom North Nursing Home in Rochester for using two elderly residents’ Social Security Numbers to fraudulently obtain cable service from Time Warner Cable and power from Rochester Gas & Electric.

To date, Attorney General Cuomo’s ongoing nursing home investigations, including the use of hidden-cameras, have led to the arrests or convictions of more than 47 nursing home employees. 

The Austin case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Laurie Frank of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit Buffalo Regional Office and investigated by Senior Special Investigator Kathleen Donahue.  The Penman, Perry, and Sovereign cases are being prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Thomas N. Schleif, under the supervision of Special Deputy Attorney General Heidi Wendel, Chief of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.  Senior Special Investigator Thomas P. Kenney conducted the investigations.

The charges against Penman, Perry, and Sovereign are merely accusations and these defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.