A Rosebud County woman has been charged with four counts of felony elder abuse related to the care of patients at the Eastern Montana Veterans Home in Glendive.
Susan Stablefeldt, 57, of Colstrip, who has worked at the 80-bed home on and off for about five years, was arraigned this week in Dawson County District Court for abuse that allegedly occurred between Oct. 1, 2012, and Jan. 13, 2013. All of the alleged victims were over age 60.
Stablefeldt has been released after posting a $10,000 bond. Arraignment is set for 10 a.m. June 4. She has asked for a court-appointed attorney; no one from the public defender’s office has yet been appointed.
The charges stem from a complaint that Christy Kemp, director of nursing, made to Glendive police on Jan. 29. Kemp told police that she had been receiving various email messages from staffers who said Stablefeldt was abusing residents, according to court documents.
Stablefeldt, a nurse hired through the Montana Health Network, which acts as a temp agency for health care workers, usually worked in the wing where patients with moderate to severe dementia reside.
In one incident, Stablefeldt allegedly pinned a patient’s arm to his bed with her knee and full weight. During the same incident, she put her hand over his mouth and told him to “shut up,” according to court documents.
On a second occasion, Stablefeldt slapped a patient while changing him, court documents say.
Stablefeldt is also accused of twisting a patient’s arm behind his back, causing him to fall to his knees on the floor. Stablefeldt then kept him on the floor, according to court documents. The patient had a bowel movement on the floor of his room. The staff found him hiding behind a recliner and later discovered his skin was torn where his arm had been twisted.
On a fourth occasion, Stablefeldt is accused of punching a patient in the left forearm. Court documents say Stablefeldt was attempting to put the patient to bed when the patient took a swing at her. Stablefeldt reportedly pulled her arm back, made a fist and punched the patient in the arm, asking him how he liked it.
In a recorded interview with Glendive police, Stablefeldt said she had recently been “under a lot of stress” and “never intentionally hurt anybody.” She told police that most of the patients were veterans and that there was a “fine line” in dealing with veteran patients. She said their care was sometimes challenging and that she did not know if what she did was abuse or not.
The maximum penalty for elder abuse is 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The nursing home is managed by Glendive Medical Center, whose interim CEO, Parker Powell, told The Gazette the nursing home has a zero-tolerance policy for abuse.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time charges have ever been filed against a staff member at the Eastern Montana Veterans Home,” Powell said. “What I can tell you is that as soon as we became aware of this issue we took immediate action, notifying the authorities.”
The case was investigated by the Glendive Police Department at Glendive Medical Center’s request.