By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
OTTAWA — Phyllis J. Campbell’s family was pleased Wednesday afternoon when a Putnam County jury found a former nursing home employee guilty of two charges related to the 76-year-old’s death.
Megan Schnipke, 32, of Columbus Grove, was found guilty in Putnam County Common Pleas Court of forgery, a fifth-degree felony, and gross patient neglect, a first-degree misdemeanor. She was found not guilty of patient neglect, a second-degree misdemeanor.
Campbell, formerly of Findlay, froze to death on Jan. 7 after she wandered out of the Hilty Home in Pandora.
“The family is pleased with the outcome,” one of Campbell’s children, Debora Klingler, told The Courier. Klingler and one of her brothers, Steve Campbell, said they were pleased with the prosecution and witnesses, as well as the victims’ services representative, Cindy Kuhr, who worked with the family.
Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers was assisted by Deb Wehrle, a senior assistant attorney general with the state attorney general’s office.
Phyllis Campbell, who had dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, walked out of the Hilty Home around 12:35 a.m. Jan. 7, according to an Ohio Department of Health and Human Services report. Around that time, Schnipke, a licensed practical nurse, left the nurses’ station and spent 20 minutes in another resident’s room performing a breathing treatment. She would not have seen Campbell leaving.
Campbell went outside through an exit in the dining room but first had to leave the facility’s memory care wing and enter the rest of the nursing home.
The memory care wing doors were propped open, so no alarm sounded when Campbell went through them without entering a code, and the WanderGuard device on her ankle did not set off the sensor in a separate alarm system.
Leaving the doors open was common, defense attorney Robert Grzybowski argued. The state report also said this was normal at Hilty Home.
Given that the nursing home staff knew Campbell had a tendency to wander, the prosecution argued that Schnipke should have either closed the doors to the memory care wing, or asked another employee to sit at the nurses’ station while she administered the breathing treatment.
A person at the station would have been able to see Campbell leaving the memory care wing, the prosecution contended.
The forgery charge stemmed from a false note Schnipke wrote around 6 a.m. Jan. 7 saying Campbell was in bed with her call light nearby, when in fact Campbell had left the building hours earlier.
Schnipke said in an interview with Pandora Police Chief Scott Stant that the information she wrote down was provided by either Rachel R. Friesel or Destini M. Fenbert, who were state-tested nurse aides at Hilty Home.
Friesel, Fenbert and Schnipke no longer work at the nursing home.
Friesel, 37, and Fenbert, 20, both of Pandora, pleaded guilty in August to forgery and gross patient neglect, the same charges Schnipke was found guilty of.
The STNAs were both sentenced to 60 days in the Putnam County jail, five years of community control sanctions, and 100 days of community service. They have to jointly pay $4,536 in restitution.
The jury of eight men and four women deliberated for less than two and a half hours Wednesday in Schnipke’s case. Her trial began Monday.
Judge Keith Schierloh did not set a sentencing date for Schnipke but said it should be scheduled for 30 to 45 days from now.
The maximum sentence on the forgery charge is one year in prison. For gross patient neglect, Schnipke could serve up to six months in jail.
Ashley Kear, one of Campbell’s granddaughters, said the case should be a “reminder to those in the health care field that they are accountable and responsible” for both their actions and inactions.