Who's Watching Granny? New York City Employs Nearly 500 Criminals
Felons Looking After Grandma
By Bob Port And Thomas Zambito - NY. Daily News
No background checks on nurse's aides
More than 450 criminals, many with convictions for violent assaults, sexual offenses or drug dealing, are licensed to work in city nursing homes caring for the elderly and infirm, a Daily News investigation has found. They are nurse's aides, certified by the state to bathe and feed the city's 42,000 nursing home residents.
The state does not check criminal convictions before or after it licenses a nurse's aide. And under law, it will not give city nursing homes information about aides' criminal records.
Some aides have managed to keep their licenses despite being convicted of crimes against the elderly. Others have committed offenses over and over again without state health officials finding out.
Nearly half the convicted felons found among licensed nursing home aides had records of grand larceny, forgery or possession of stolen property.
"It's very frightening to think that people convicted of violent assaults are caregivers in nursing homes because most residents are physically or mentally unable to protect themselves," said Jean Murphy, executive director of Friends and Relatives of Institutionalized Aged Inc., a nursing home watchdog group.
Battle for access
The News' findings follow a months-long Freedom of Information Law battle with the state Health Department over the release of birth dates for the state's 14,700 certified nurse's aides. A judge ordered the birth dates released. The newspaper then matched the roster of aides against an Office of Court Administration database of 2 million criminal convictions dating to 1987.
The analysis turned up 457 licensed aides who have criminal convictions.
Of those, 92 were convicted of a felony - more than a dozen involving assault or violent acts against another person.
More than a dozen have drug convictions, most of them for dealing. A dozen others were accused of felonies but pleaded guilty to lesser offenses.
The News reviewed dozens of files in courthouses across the city and turned up the following case histories:
Yves Cadet, 49, was convicted in 1994 of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl for more than a year. He was sentenced to five years' probation. Cadet, who has been licensed to work in a nursing home since 1989, was recertified by the state last December, entitling him to work as a nurse's aide through next year.
He works at Flushing Manor Care Center in Queens. Steve Selzer, Flushing Manor's administrator, said the home will investigate whether it can fire Cadet. His employment is covered by a union contract, Selzer said. Even if Flushing Manor had asked Cadet about convictions on a job application, "I can almost guarantee you that he put none," Selzer said, "because if there was anything there, we would not have hired him."
Cadet refused to speak to The News.
While employed as an aide at Queens' Windsor Park Nursing Home in 1992, 250-pound Charles Ward sneaked up behind a 59-year-old woman walking down a Queens street and threatened her at knifepoint.
"Give me the bag," Ward demanded before knocking the woman to the ground and fleeing with her pocketbook.
Ward, 38, pleaded guilty to third-degree robbery and was sentenced to a maximum of six years in prison - one of several convictions he has tallied in the past decade. In 1990, Ward had been accused of attempting to sell cocaine to an undercover police officer and was already on probation at the time of the robbery.
In 1995, a Queens police officer spotted Ward driving a 1981 Buick with a stolen license plate. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
And in March 1999, Ward was arrested again, this time for trying to pay a female undercover officer $20 for sex. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. Ward could not be found for comment.
He has been licensed to work in a nursing home since 1990 and was recertified last year to work as a nurse's aide through June.
Garden Care Center in Franklin Square, L.I., recently employed him, according to public records. Garden Care officials refused to comment.
In May 1999, Staten Island aide Daisy Walker and an accomplice hired four men to beat up Walker's tenant to scare him into leaving an apartment she owned. Walker, 54, and the accomplice drove the assailants to the apartment, where they broke into the man's second-floor flat and beat him with a wooden table leg, breaking his arm and shattering his teeth.
She pleaded guilty to burglary and conspiracy and is on probation until 2005. "My lawyer told me to plead guilty," she said, refusing to comment further. Walker's license to work as an aide expires in October.
As of last week, she was working at Golden Gate Rehabilitation & Health Care Center on Staten Island. Golden Gate administrator Philip Buchsbaum said he was unaware of the case and would look into it. Walker has been a good employee since 1990, he said.
The News found an additional 1,477 nurse's aides whose licenses expired this year but who had been convicted of numerous crimes, including 271 felonies. Two were accused of murder.
"Our elders deserve more protection - better screening in the first place and quicker removal of staff at any level when their actions suggest they could harm residents," said Murphy of the nursing home patient advocacy group.
A long, sad history
State lawmakers have known for years that criminals are working in nursing homes. Celebrated cases from the city, upstate and across the country have spotlighted the dangers that nursing home residents face when criminals are caring for them.
In 1997, a 29-year-old comatose woman in a nursing home near upstate Rochester was raped by nurse's aide John Horace and later gave birth. In July 1999, nurse's aide Arturo Martinez pleaded guilty to charges he placed his hand inside the diaper of a 69-year-old resident of Queens' Margaret Tietz Center for Nursing Care for purposes of sexual gratification.
And a 92-year-old resident of the upstate Oneida City Hospital Extended Care Facility was raped five times over two months in 1997 by nurse's aide Arthur Wallace.
Each of the defendants had a record of convictions.
In Wallace's case, he was court-martialed by the Army for lewd and lascivious contact with a 3-year-old girl. Martinez had been arrested four times on charges of grand larceny, burglary, possession of stolen weapons and sexual abuse before being hired by Margaret Tietz. Horace had a string of convictions for petty crimes in New York City.
One of every four aides arrested by state investigators for abuse or neglect has a criminal record, according to statistics compiled by state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, whose office prosecutes nursing home crimes.
That trend has held true for years, according to Spitzer's staff.
A News analysis of a state registry of aides barred from working because they hurt nursing home residents turned up four who had felony convictions when they were first licensed years earlier.
One, Pamela Douglas, had a 1990 conviction for drug possession. In November 1998, while working at the Bishop Francis J. Mugavero Center for Geriatric Care in Brooklyn, she punched a patient who "was saying in a loud voice that someone ... was stupid," according to state records.
Mugavero officials refused to discuss the case.
Nursing home owners say they would welcome criminal background checks of their workers, although they would like the state to assume the cost.
"We have long supported doing criminal background checks," said Robert Murphy, public affairs chief for the New York State Health Facilities Association.
"You're really relying on the fact that you take a job application and you ask questions about criminal convictions," he said. "That doesn't mean the people are going to answer the questions honestly."
Edward Barrera contributed to this report.
Source: NY. Daily News