By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nine employees of a troubled New York nursing home, including the top administrator, were indicted on Thursday on charges stemming from the death of a resident whose distress alarms went unheeded for hours.
The company running the Medford Multicare Center for Living was indicted as well for an alleged attempt to cover up the circumstances surrounding the October 2012 death, according to a statement by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
The victim, a 72-year-old woman, was staying at the facility in Medford, about 40 miles (64 km) east of New York City on suburban Long Island, for what was meant to be temporary rehabilitation.
A respiratory therapist who failed to connect the woman to a ventilator at night was charged with criminally negligent homicide, the Attorney General's statement said.
The therapist ignored alarms and messages to her pager for more than two hours when the woman stopped breathing, and video surveillance showed the therapist walking past the resident's room while the alarms were sounding, it said.
"Today's indictment sends a clear message: We will arrest those who put our most vulnerable citizens in harm's way, and in particular those who neglect or deny life-saving medical treatment to patients," Schneiderman said. "We must and will do everything in our power to protect our nursing home residents from abuse."
Also indicted on criminal charges were six nurses and aides also accused of ignoring the alarms. One nurse told investigators the resident was alive and "looked up at me" when she had likely been dead for some time, Schneiderman said.
The Center for Living at Medford Inc., the facility administrator and the director of respiratory therapy were accused of concealing computer records, which documented the alarms, from state health investigators, it said.
All nine pleaded not guilty at arraignments on Thursday before Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice John Collins.
The Attorney General filed a civil lawsuit earlier this year charging the home's owners with looting and fraud.
The lawsuit said since 2008 that 17 employees had been convicted of neglect and falsification of records in an effort to cover up abuse and neglect.
It accused Medford's owners of paying themselves at least $60 million, representing nearly a quarter of the Medicaid funding they received, the statement said.
(Editing by Sandra Maler)