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Nursing home head to stand trial in patient's death

| Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The administrator of a Robinson nursing home and the nonprofit company she runs must stand trial in the 2001 death of an elderly Alzheimer's patient, a district justice ruled Monday.

Martha Bell, 57, of West Mifflin, administrator of the Ronald Reagan Atrium I Nursing, Research and Rehabilitation Center, will also face trial on theft charges stemming from $51,500 in checks she withdrew from the home's payroll account.

Robinson District Justice Carla Swearingen's ruling came after the final day of testimony in a preliminary hearing that lasted five days and brought testimony from 19 witnesses.

"It feels very good to have come this far," said Jane Baczewski of Hopewell, Beaver County. Her mother, Mabel Taylor, 88, was found dead on the sidewalk by nursing home employees after being locked out of the 120-bed Campbells Run Road facility in 40-degree weather on Oct. 26, 2001.

Prosecutors allege that Bell ran a short-staffed facility that led to inadequate supervision of Alzheimer's patients. She also conspired to cover up Taylor's death by cleaning her and placing her in a overheated room to make it appear as if she died there, prosecutors say.

"The defendant knew exactly what could happen to Alzheimer's patients," Assistant District Attorney Tom Merrick told Swearingen.

Bell's attorneys argued that previous testimony indicated Taylor wasn't prone to wander, so there was no way for Bell to know she was at risk.

"No one could have foreseen that Mabel Taylor could have wandered," said Al Lindsay, the attorney representing the nonprofit Alzheimer's Disease Alliance of Western Pennsylvania, which operated the now-closed home.

Bell is charged with involuntary manslaughter, neglect of a care-dependent person and reckless endangerment individually and as head of Alzheimer's Alliance. Bell also is charged with criminal conspiracy in Taylor's death.

In a separate but related case, Bell is charged with two counts each of theft, theft by deception and theft by failing to make the required disposal of funds.

Prosecutors said Bell withdrew two checks -- one for $11,500 and one for $40,000 -- from the nursing home's payroll account, leaving only $76.21 in the account. Paychecks for about 24 employees bounced, according to testimony yesterday.

The checks were withdrawn on Oct. 23, the day after Allegheny County Judge Lawrence O'Toole issued an order barring Bell from any involvement with Atrium.

Bell's criminal defense attorney, Thomas Ceraso, argued that Bell didn't officially receive the order until Oct. 30 and therefore didn't know of the injunction when she withdrew the money.

Swearingen, who arraigned Bell on Oct. 22, disputed that.

"She was fully aware of the order," Swearingen said. "I know. I handed it to her."

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