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Nurses appear in court over 2008 elder abuse case

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From page A1 | April 11, 2012 | Leave Comment

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DONNA PALMER, flanked by two defense attorneys,defends herself against charges related to the death of a convalescent home patient in 2008. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins

Donna Palmer and Rebecca Smith appeared in court Tuesday morning for arraignment and bail hearings.

Both are accused of elder abuse in the death of Johnnie Esco, who died as a result of fecal impaction in 2008 while under the care of the nurses at El Dorado Convalescent Hospital in Placerville.

The first part of the hearing focused on Smith, who had been arraigned Monday and pleaded not guilty and was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail. She appeared in an orange jail jumpsuit with her new attorney, Guy Louie.

Smith, who flew in from Louisiana to surrender herself to authorities on Friday, had conditions added to her bail that she could not work in the field of elder care.

While she has a mother and brother in California, Judge Douglas C. Phimister allowed her to be released on her own recognizance and that her appearance can be excused from other hearings if needed. She was allowed to go back to Louisiana to take care of her five children, and she agreed to have her extradition rights waived, meaning the state of Louisiana would not be able to legally shield her from being forced to come back to California for proceedings.

Louie entered a not guilty plea for Smith, which had already been entered the day before but was noted again.

The hearing shifted focus to Palmer, who had previously posted bail and was released from custody. Deputy attorneys general Brian Turner and Steven Muni said that the Board of Nursing was concerned with Palmer acting as a Registered Nurse.

One of Palmer’s lawyers, Patrick Hanly, reasoned that nothing had happened until four years after the incident occurred, and that being denied her RN license made no sense and that her job entails policy-making and charting.

Muni countered, saying that “extensive additional investigations” had taken place in the past year, which Hanly said resulted in “No new evidence.” Hanly also claimed that evidence in the reports had been “misstated or omitted.”

Hanly gave the example that it was never mentioned in the government’s reports that two nurses had seen an injury on Esco’s finger but did not file an elder abuse claim, thinking that it did not fit the elder abuse description. The attorney general’s complaint claims it is, and that Esco’s ring from that finger was missing and the shredded skin indicate likely elder abuse.

Hanly also said that the doctor who was supposedly called on the day of Esco’s death had no recollection of the phone call made to him, and that the only recollection of it was from the nurse claiming to make the call.

“The only reason” the prosecution was asking for her license to be revoked, said Hanly, was “the case was in the (newspaper).”

Turner said that his reasoning for revoking the license was not based on Esco’s finger, but her fecal impaction.

The problems with Esco started while she was in the hospital prior to her stay at the care center, Hanly said. “She had five days of constipation at the hospital, and as I look around the courtroom, no nurses from the hospital have been charged,” Hanly said. “It occurred at the hospital, too.”

Hanly said that the men from the Attorney General’s Office “are manufacturing a condition,” and that Esco had died of “a pulmonary embolism, while they would have you believe it was sepsis.”

Palmer’s administrative attorney, Eric S. Emanuals, said that Palmer is “not rendering patient care, she is no threat.” He noted that, while she is currently out of work, she had been employed after the incident as a “minimum data set coordinator,” which entailed Palmer entering data and confirming it with patients — something the prosecution was opposed to due to interaction with patients at all.

After hearing bail suggestions by both sides, Judge Phimister ruled that Palmer’s bail would remain at $75,000, which she had already been released on, and added that she would be required to inform any potential employers of her pending litigation. He said that any supervision of Palmer would be at the discretion of her employer.

Phimister’s reasoning for not revoking her license was that she needed to be able to practice her vocation in order to make her bail payment, and that it would be “circuitous logic” to revoke the license. “She has a right to engage in her profession.”

The next hearing for the case was set for June 6 at 1 p.m.

Editor’s note: For more background on this story, read Cole Mayer’s March 26 article on the warrant and arrest here

Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or cmayer@mtdemocrat.net. Follow @CMayerMtDemo.

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