Va. nurse’s aide convicted in toe-amputation case still is certified

Two years ago this week, certified nurse’s aide Ophelia Tarpeh and a 61-year old woman in her care took a cab from an Annandale nursing home into Washington for a dental appointment.

They were dropped off at the wrong address, so Ms. Tarpeh pushed the woman — who is paralyzed on the right side of her body and unable to talk — in a wheelchair with no footrests to nearby National Rehabilitation Hospital.

By the time they arrived, the nursing home resident was screaming and moaning, her right big toe was cut “down to the bone,” court records show. The woman’s shoeless foot had been dragged on a concrete sidewalk and asphalt street the length of nearly three football fields, and doctors at the Washington Hospital Center had to amputate the toe three days later, authorities said.

Months after the amputation, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington filed charges against Ms. Tarpeh, and prosecutors recently announced that they won a misdemeanor criminal negligence conviction that landed her a 180-day jail sentence, with all but three weeks suspended.

But records show that in 2009, Virginia nursing regulators looked into the same incident and cited “insufficient evidence” in a decision that has allowed Ms. Tarpeh to keep the state certification she’ll need to continue working in Virginia.

How two jurisdictions came to such different conclusions remains unclear. For now, Ms. Tarpeh retains her certification in spite of her criminal conviction.

“We felt we had sufficient evidence to get a conviction for a crime,” said Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline N. Schesnol of the D.C. Office of Inspector General Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

When Virginia regulators decided there wasn’t enough evidence to revoke or restrict Ms. Tarpeh’s certification, she already was facing criminal charges in the District, records show. But it’s unclear whether Virginia officials even knew about the case.

In interviews, officials with the Virginia Board of Nursing said they were limited by privacy rules on what they could discuss about Ms. Tarpeh’s case. In general, the officials said, the board may not have had the same information as prosecutors in the District.

Jay P. Douglas, the board’s executive director, said her enforcement staff plans to take a second look at the case in light of Ms. Tarpeh’s conviction. She said Tuesday that investigators are pulling court records in Washington.

Meanwhile, Ms. Tarpeh’s attorneys say Virginia officials got it right in the first place, adding that their client maintains her innocence and is appealing the conviction.

Ms. Tarpeh expresses regret that the victim was injured in this incident,” defense attorneys Emmanuel D. Akpan and Ubong E. Akpan said in a statement to The Washington Times. “However, this case is about whether a crime was committed, and we believe that the overwhelming evidence is that a criminal act did not occur.”

The lawyers also said they believed that the trial judge made errors and that the conviction will be overturned on appeal.

Ms. Tarpeh was not sanctioned by the Virginia Board and currently maintains her CNA license,” they added.

Ms. Schesnol disagreed: “Not only did the government believe a crime was committed, but the finder of fact, the judge, agreed beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said.

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