A former staffer at a Timonium, Maryland nursing home pleaded guilty late last month to abuse of a vulnerable adult in the second degree. This Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog previously reported on the case of Shirleen Diane Sheppard when prosecutors first indicted her last year. Sheppard worked as a geriatric nursing assistant at Stella Maris. According to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, Sheppard was attending an 82 year-old female resident on October 17, 2010. She became angry and slapped the patient’s face. She also reportedly refused to put ointment on the patient’s rash and kept the assistance call button away from the patient.
Another staffer witnessed the incident, cared for the patient, and then reported the matter to the nursing home’s administration. Sheppard admitted to the assault, and the nursing home fired her. The patient reportedly did not suffer any lasting injury.
Sheppard was indicted in the Circuit Court of Baltimore County on four counts: one count of second-degree abuse of a vulnerable adult, two counts of second-degree neglect of a vulnerable adult, and one count of second-degree assault. All of these charges are misdemeanors under Maryland law. Second-degree assault carries a potential penalty of ten years imprisonment and a fine of up to $2,500. The abuse and neglect of a vulnerable adult charges each carry potential prison terms of five years and fines of $5,000. Maryland’s criminal laws define “abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult” as the deliberate infliction of pain or injury, “cruel or inhumane treatment,” sexual abuse, and failure to provide “necessary assistance and resources” like food and shelter. The second-degree abuse or neglect statute applies to a caregiver, parent, household or family member, or other person with “permanent or temporary care or responsibility for the supervision” of an adult deemed “vulnerable.” “Vulnerable” is defined as “lack[ing] the physical or mental capacity to provide for [one’s own] daily needs.”
Sheppard formally entered a guilty plea to one count of second-degree abuse of a vulnerable adult at a hearing on January 18, 2012. The judge accepted her plea and imposed a three-year suspended prison sentence. She will be on probation for three years and must complete 150 hours of community service within the next year. The judge also barred her from working as a geriatric nursing assistant during her probation term.