Thursday 30 March 2017

Nurse in 'financial distress' jailed for stealing €45k from patient

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Stock picture

Declan Brennan

A former nursing home manager has been jailed for 15 months after she stole €45,000 from a patient.

Maeve Bell (38) was the clinical manager at Elmhurst nursing home in Glasnevin, Dublin when she began siphoning off money from the “comfort account” of a resident.

The court heard that Highfield Nursing Home, which runs Elmhurst, have in place a system of comfort accounts which are used to pay for the resident's upkeep and any other personal needs. They are funded by money paid from the resident's main bank account.

Bell, a qualified nurse, stole the money by making requests on behalf of the resident to withdraw money from her comfort account. The court heard that the victim was not elderly but had serious medical difficulties and had moved into the home in 2013.

The thefts came to light when the resident became distressed about the low level of funds in her account. A 'resident advocate' then inspected the account and saw that a “concerning” level of activity had reduced the funds from €17,000 to €600 in a four month period.

After passing sentence Judge Martin Nolan said he was surprised to hear that the resident was still out of pocket and that the nursing home has not compensated her.

He asked the gardai to consider bringing the matter to the attention of a relevant Ombudsman.

“I'm not sure the nursing home should be allowed to walk away in such a cavalier fashion. They had care and custody of the money. They had responsibility to ensure no mishaps happen,” he said.

Bell formerly of Inniskeen, Co Monaghan and with an address at Shanmullagh, Hackballscross, Dundalk, Co Louth pleaded guilty to 15 counts of stealing money at Highfield nursing home on various dates between July 2013 and October 2014.

The amounts stolen increased in value as the offending continued, ranging from €600 up to €1,800 in regular monthly requests. A total of €38,000 was taken from the nursing home account.

On a number of occasions Bell took the victim's bank card and used it steal cash amounts, totalling €7,000 from her Bank of Ireland account. She would withdraw money for the victim as well as additional cash which she kept herself.

Bell told gardai she intended to use the money to pay her mortgage and bills while she was out on maternity leave. “My house was being repossessed, my husband wasn't working, I was going on maternity leave,” she said.

At the time she owed money to moneylenders and was trying to look after her two elderly parents in Longford.

Judge Martin Nolan said he accepted that Bell had committed the crimes out of financial distress.

He said that while Bell was a very sympathetic character and had a very difficult life he had to impose a jail sentence.

“She was in a position of almost total power,” he said, adding that it is a fact of modern living that a lot of people were in the vulnerable position of the victim.

In a statement Highfield Healthcare said they have "worked closely" with gardai in relation to the case.

"Highfield Healthcare had to await the decision of the Criminal Court so that it could ascertain the level of monies stolen without its knowledge, as well as whether Ms Bell was in a position to pay.

"In circumstances where these monies are no longer recoverable from Ms Bell,  Highfield Healthcare will now immediately pay its resident these monies.

"Highfield Healthcare has revised its internal practices and procedures to ensure that a similar incident does not occur again and has apologised to its resident that this incident occurred.”

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