Home Care Nurse Found Not Guilty Of Abusing Incapacitated Man

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By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 16, 2007; Page B05
Who failed Charles Furry?

Over a four-day trial this week, a state prosecutor argued that the blame lay with the nursing supervisor whose job it was to oversee Furry’s home-health care. Isatu A. Wurie, 57, then an employee at Woodbridge-based Sierra Home Health Care, was charged with abuse and neglect of an incapacitated adult, a felony.

After deliberating into the evening, staying 2 1/2 hours after the courthouse had closed, jurors found Wurie not guilty. After the verdict was read, Wurie slammed her fist on the table and sobbed. A relative of Wurie’s in the back row said, “Thank you, Jesus.”

“I’m really sorry what happened to Mr. Furry, because he doesn’t deserve to be treated like that,” Wurie said outside the courtroom afterward. “The county neglected him, and they are trying to blame someone else.”

Furry, 55, who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, died two weeks after he was found on the recliner Aug. 21, 2003.

The case was the first felony involving in-home care handled by the attorney general’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, said J. Tucker Martin, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. And although the office has handled dozens of adult abuse cases over the years, he said, rarely has there been one of this magnitude.

Assistant Attorney General Steven W. Grist repeatedly told the jury that the case was more about what Wurie didn’t do than what she did. He told the jury they should consider “what did she know, what did she do with that knowledge? What did she fail to do?”

Wurie’s defense attorneys, however, presented a picture in which Furry was failed not by an individual but by Prince William’s entire social service system. Employees from the Community Services Board, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Health were called to testify, opening a rare window on the inner workings of the agencies.

“Are you going to ignore the history that these people knew of this guy?” attorney Dickson J. Young asked the jury, adding that Wurie was the one who eventually called rescuers to Furry’s apartment. “She made the call that should have been made months before any of this stuff happened.”

It was Wurie’s job to conduct the initial assessment of Furry’s condition and needs, which she did in June 2003. After that, she was to check on him every 30 days, or as needed.

Wurie, who has been a nurse for 20 years, continues to work as an emergency room nurse at a Northern Virginia hospital. “I’m a very, very dedicated nurse,” she said last night.

Wurie was the first to find Furry on the recliner that August day. His legs and feet were so swollen that body fluid had saturated his socks, she testified. His tongue hung from his mouth, and he could not speak or walk.

Wurie had received a call from her boss two days earlier saying that Furry had fallen and that she should check on him, but she said she didn’t think it was an emergency, she told the jury.

Wurie called rescuers that day, on a non-emergency line, evidence showed. When firefighters arrived about six hours later, according to prosecutors, they discovered maggots crawling underneath his socks.

Grist presented as evidence various forms that Wurie had signed from the nurse’s aide who was in charge of Furry’s daily care. The documents were incomplete in many instances and showed there were days when he wasn’t bathed, wasn’t walked, wasn’t moved and didn’t get help eating or going to the bathroom.

The aide, Joann Williams, 36, pleaded guilty to the felony charge in February and is awaiting sentencing. Wurie could have faced one to five years in jail if convicted.

During the trial, one of the few matters that the prosecution and defense agreed on was that Furry had nobody in the world and that his condition should never have reached such a critical point.

“My God, I can’t imagine how he felt,” Grist said. “He felt pain, we do know that.”

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