Elder abuser guilty
A former Marysville nursing home worker was found guilty Thursday of elder abuse in the case of a 98-year-old Alzheimer's patient who was left outside all night in a wheelchair.
Debbie Montes, 25, was unemotional as she heard the jury verdict in Yuba County Superior Court. The 11-woman, one-man jury deliberated for about three hours.
The victim, Mildred Taylor, was found scantily clad and shivering the next morning on a patio outside Prestige Assisted Living, 515 Harris St. She died about a month later.
Judge Timothy Evans set a Sept. 1 sentencing date for Montes. She could serve up to six months in jail.
No one testified to seeing Montes push Taylor outside the night of June 26, 2004. But the jury found Montes lied about checking on all her patients before leaving work at 10 p.m.
Another worker found Taylor's bed still made at 11 p.m. and the wheelchair gone. She assumed Taylor's family had taken her home for the weekend.
Taylor's granddaughter, Kathy Wilson, said the verdict "has given (Taylor) a little justice."
The family is glad the conviction will keep Montes from working in another nursing home, said Wilson.
"It's common sense that you don't take the job unless you're compassionate," said Wilson.
Taylor's daughter, Elma Sheppard, testified she saw Montes struggling to help the 80-pound Taylor into a wheelchair. Taylor, who was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's, was feebly slapping at Montes, she said.
Later, Montes was heard demanding an apology from Taylor, who did not understand what Montes was talking about, said Sheppard.
Most Prestige workers called Taylor "Grandma." But Montes, in denying her involvement in the incident, said she did not push "the old lady" outside, Prosecutor Jennifer Dupre said in her closing argument to the jury.
"You can infer that Debbie Montes had a disposition to elder neglect," said Dupre.
Montes had sufficient training as a personal care attendant but "chose not to do her job. Mildred Taylor was one of the people who relied on her. Debbie Montes let her down," said Dupre.
"Mildred Taylor deserved better," said Dupre.
Wilson said Taylor "was the kind of mother and grandmother everyone would like to have. She was a gracious woman, always trying to feed you if you were visiting her," said Wilson.
"Even as Alzheimer's ravaged her mind, if she had a cookie she would break it in half and insist you take it," said Wilson.
Wilson said Taylor "had numerous wonderful caregivers at Prestige. However, they weren't all wonderful or we wouldn't be here today."
Taylor herself was incapable of saying who pushed her outside, said Wilson.
"Only that person knows because Grandma no longer had a voice. We will also never know the true agony that Grandma went through the night - 98 years old, wheelchair-bound, 80 pounds, and only a whisper of a voice."
Wilson said she hopes the case helps bring about a change in state law requiring more staffing in nursing homes, especially those with Alzheimer's units.
"We all should be outraged that such a monstrous deed could happen in our society. We must give a voice to those who are unable to speak for themselves," she said.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Roberto Marquez said Montes was guilty of "ordinary negligence at worst," but not criminal negligence.
Rather than Montes, the employee who assumed responsibility for the Alzheimer's unit at 11 p.m. should have been on trial. Or else a co-worker on an adjoining unit who was responsible for both units between the hours of 10 and 11 p.m. and could have taken Taylor outside, said Marquez.
Wilson said lack of training was not a factor in the incident.
"Anyone with any common sense of compassion would not have done this to Grandma," she said.
Marquez said Prestige "put the most inexperienced people" in charge of the neediest patients.
"My client was supposed to know it all," he said.
After the incident, Prestige promised to improve its procedures.
The California Department of Social Services cited Prestige for violating Taylor's rights but did not fine the company.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Rob Young can be reached at 749-4710. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.