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Nurse’s Aide Disciplined Based On Deceased Patient’s Affidavit

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JULY 8, 2002 VOLUME 10, NUMBER 1

Identifying and protecting against abuse of nursing home residents is a difficult and continuing problem for authorities. The frailty and dependence of residents, coupled with high turnover and, too often, poor training and supervision, make it a challenge to prove cases of abuse or neglect. A recent incident in New York illustrates some of the common problems of proof in such cases.

Cindy M. King was a certified nurse’s aide working in a skilled nursing facility in Clinton County, New York. She was charged with forcibly grabbing an elderly resident’s arm and pulling her out of her bed. After a hearing before the State Department of Health she was found to have engaged in behavior constituting patient abuse and patient neglect.

Ms. King appealed the determination. Among other things, she argued that the hearing officer should not have accepted hearsay evidence. The appellate court rejected that assertion and upheld her discipline.

By the time of the hearing the patient Ms. King was accused of abusing had died. While the patient’s death was not a result of Ms. King’s treatment, it nonetheless points up a common problem in investigating and prosecuting cases of abuse in nursing homes: because the residents tend to be both elderly and frail, they often die before the legal proceedings can be resolved. In other cases residents may be dependent on caretakers and anxious about accusing anyone of misbehavior, or their mental abilities may be so diminished that their testimony is unreliable.

In Ms. King’s case, the resident had signed an affidavit about the incident. Other staff members testified about her descriptions of the events at the time. Both kinds of testimony were introduced.

Ms. King argued that the resident’s statements should not be admitted or considered because she did not have any opportunity to cross-examine the resident, and the resident’s mental status made her testimony inherently unreliable. The appellate court upheld the hearing officer’s consideration of the resident’s statements, pointing out that other staff members described her as alert and coherent. In any event, the court noted, the resident’s version of the events was corroborated by other sources—including Ms. King herself, whose version of the incident differed from the resident’s in only one key respect.

According to Ms. King, she had assisted the resident to get out of bed by supporting her back; according to the resident and other witnesses, she had grabbed the patient’s arm and pulled her out of bed. There was some evidence that Ms. King had admitted that the resident’s version was more accurate. With substantial evidence to support the Department of Health’s determination, Ms. King’s objections were denied and her appeal dismissed. King v. New York State Department of Health, June 13, 2002.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

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Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.