TRENTON, NJ – A Union woman is among three certified nurse aides accused of physically abusing patients in the residential care facilities where they worked, according to Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor (OIFP).
Cairy Chrisphonte, 54, of Union, Debra L. Matela, 44, of Turnersville, and Danny Brown, 55, of Easton, Pa., are the latest individuals to be prosecuted in the OIFP’s ongoing crackdown on elder abuse.
“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,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Today, as communities around the world promote awareness of elder abuse, we join them by calling attention to New Jersey’s ongoing efforts to vigorously protect those who cannot protect themselves.”
“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,” said Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Christopher Iu. “We are putting the health care community on notice that we are prepared to use every law available to protect New Jersey’s elderly and disabled patients from abuse.”
The indictments of Chrisphonte, Matela, and Brown stem from investigations conducted by OIFP’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), which receives federal funding 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.
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. The latest actions involve three Certified Nurse Aides (CNAs) indicted last week:
· Cairy Chrisphonte - 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.
· Danny Brown – 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.)
· Debra Matela – 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.
Chrisphonte, Brown, and Matela have all been fired and stripped of their professional credentials as a result of the abuse charges.
Other health care employees facing assault charges in OIFP’s crackdown on patient abuse are Registered Nurse Dorothea Harvilik and CNA Adeline Philippe.
Harvilik, 64, of Saddle River, was indicted April 3 on a charge of fourth-degree assault on a disabled person after a hidden-camera video purportedly showed her slapping and roughly treating a ventilator-dependent, paralyzed patient she was hired to care for in his home in November 2016.
Philippe, 47, of Orange was indicted February 22 on a charge of fourth-degree assault on an institutionalized elderly person for allegedly striking and scratching a 76-year-old dementia patient under her care at the New Jersey Fireman’s Home in Boonton in August 2016.
In November 2016, the State Board of Nursing, within the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, permanently revoked Harvilik’s nursing license, after viewing the video of her striking the bed-bound patient.
In October 2016 the State Department of Health (DOH), which regulates CNAs, summarily suspended Philippe’s CNA certification, after her employer fired her and notified the Department about the alleged abuse.
The DOH summarily suspended Chrisphonte’s CNA certification on March 20, after she was fired by the nursing home and criminally charged.
Matela’s CNA certification was summarily suspended by DOH following her arrest on February 26. The State Board of Nursing also suspended her certification as a Certified Homemaker-Home Health Aide.
Brown was immediately suspended and ultimately fired as a result of the alleged patient assault. His CNA certification was summarily suspended by DOH following his indictment last week.
The indictments are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree crimes carry a sentence of up to eighteen months in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $5,000.
Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Iu and Peter Sepulveda, Chief of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, thank the state agencies that have worked closely on the MFCU investigations, including the New Jersey Department of Health, the New Jersey Department of Human Services’ Adult Protective Services and its Office of the Public Guardian for the Elderly; and the New Jersey Office of the Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day serves as a call-to-action for individuals, organizations, and communities to raise awareness about abuse, neglect, and exploitation of elders. The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations launched the first World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, 2006 in an effort to unite communities around the world in raising awareness about elder abuse.
OIFP’s crackdown on patient abuse is part of the Office of Attorney General’s (OAG’s) initiative to ramp up protections for elderly and disabled patients. The initiative was kicked off in December 2016 when Attorney General Porrino and the Division of Consumer Affairs unveiled the Division’s “Safe Care Cam” program, which offered micro-surveillance cameras free on loan to residents who suspect a loved one is being abused by an in-home caregiver.
The Safe Care Cam program was launched to address New Jersey's growing concerns about patient abuse. Those fears, being played out across the nation, have been fueled by increased media accounts of caregivers caught on hidden cameras physically or verbally assaulting their charges.
Recognizing the growing role that surveillance equipment plays in protecting patients from abuse, and recognizing that quality cameras can run as high as $300, Attorney General Porrino and the Division created the Safe Care Cam program to make cameras and memory cards available on loan for free to New Jersey residents who suspect their loved ones are being mistreated or neglected by an in-home caregiver.
Last month, in response to public requests, the Division expanded the Safe Care Cam program to provide cameras for use in nursing homes and other institutional care facilities.
To protect the integrity of the program, the Division is not disclosing how many cameras it purchased for the Safe Care Cam program, or how many are currently in use around the state. But requests for the equipment have been steady and the feedback from participants has been positive.
Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Iu noted that some important cases have started with anonymous tips. People who are concerned about insurance cheating and have information about a fraud can report it anonymously by calling the toll-free hotline at 1-877-55-FRAUD, or visiting the Web site at www.NJInsurancefraud.org. State regulations permit a reward to be paid to an eligible person who provides information that leads to an arrest, prosecution and conviction for insurance fraud.