Criminal charges against a Panorama Community Hospital nurse accused of denying treatment to a seriously ill baby were dismissed Tuesday because prosecutors said some evidence indicated that another staff member might have turned the baby and her family away from the emergency room.
Deborah Carol Nachman, 37, who has been a nurse since 1975, had been charged with violating a recently enacted state Health and Safety Code statute that makes it a misdemeanor for a health-care professional to deny medical care to a patient whose life is in danger or who shows signs of serious illness or injury, said Deputy City Atty. Ellen Pais.
But Pais said witness accounts and hospital records suggested that it may have been another nurse who turned 15-month-old Veronica Ayala and her family away from the hospital on the night of Dec. 8, 1988.
Pais said no further criminal charges could be filed against anyone else in conjunction with the case because the one-year statute of limitations has expired.
Ayala--now 2 years old--ultimately lost one foot and the toes of the other to gangrene from meningococcemia, a contagious blood infection that she was suffering from when she was rushed to the hospital that night.
Although she had a high fever and skin blotches all over her body, Ayala was denied treatment at Panorama Community Hospital--possibly because her parents could not prove they had medical insurance--and she was referred to the Olive View Medical Center, Pais said.
Olive View is a county facility that offers care at low fees or free of charge to indigent patients.
Panorama Community Hospital officials deny that Ayala was ever brought to the hospital that night, saying there are no records that she was there.
About eight months after the incident, as part of an investigation into the incident, Ayala’s parents looked at a police photo lineup and identified Nachman as the nurse who turned them away from the emergency room. Based on this and other evidence, criminal charges were filed against Nachman in December.
But subsequent investigation by prosecutors and defense attorney Thomas Byrne indicated that Nachman might not have been at the hospital when the Ayalas arrived.
“She has never turned anybody away, let alone an infant,” Byrne said. “She has been devastated by this whole thing.”
Nachman, who worked at Panorama Community Hospital for three years before the incident, has been on disability leave for stress since the charges were filed, but Byrne said she plans to return to the nursing profession now that her name is cleared.
“She is a very dedicated nurse. Her personnel file shows that she has always received excellent reviews,” he said.
Last month, the Medical Board of California put a former Panorama Community Hospital physician on a year’s probation for sending an indigent man to a county hospital for treatment even though the patient was going into shock and could have died.
The medical board accused Dr. Stephen C. Acosta of gross negligence, incompetence and unprofessional conduct. No criminal charges were filed in the case, however, because the statute of limitations had run out, Pais said.