Vets home nurse charged with punching patient
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | October 02,2012
BENNINGTON — A nurse who was accused of punching an 82-year-old patient of the Vermont Veterans Home and fracturing his nose on Sept. 11 was arraigned on two felony charges on Monday but his attorney said the incident was an aberration in an otherwise unblemished career.
Mark G. Demasi, 58, of Bennington, pleaded innocent to felony counts of aggravated assault and aggravated assault against a vulnerable adult.
Many of the details of the incident came to light last month. At the time, the home in Bennington, which is Vermont’s only state-run nursing facility for veterans, was facing the loss of its eligibility to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding.
The deficiencies that caused the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to consider cutting the funding sources were first discovered in March, long before the alleged incident involving Demasi. However, the allegations came at a difficult time for the home, which was informed last week that Medicare and Medicaid funding will continue.
In an affidavit, officer Andy Hunt, of the Bennington Police Department, said police were called to the veterans home just before 8 p.m. Sept. 11.
Hunt said that he spoke with Elroy Whidden, a resident of the veterans home, who said he had “tapped (Demasi) at the waist while he was leaning over Whidden’s bed” and that Demasi “turned and punched him square in the nose, causing it to bleed.”
Hunt said he went to Demasi’s home and spoke to him. In a written statement, Demasi said he was in Whidden’s room to respond to a call bell. According to Demasi, Whidden had been agitated Sept. 11 and used foul language with him and other staff.
Demasi told police that Whidden had “swatted” him in the groin and although he said it hadn’t caused “real pain,” he said his right hand responded “instinctively.”
Judge David Howard released Demasi without bail and rejected a request from the state that Demasi not be allowed contact with any vulnerable adults. However, Howard ordered Demasi to stay away from the Vermont Veterans Home.
David Silver, a Bennington-based attorney who represented Demasi, asked Howard to reconsider, saying that while Demasi was suspended from his job, he was exploring the idea of seeking reinstatement depending on the outcome of investigations being conducted by the veterans home and state nursing organizations.
Alexander Burke, a deputy Bennington County state’s attorney, said the state didn’t want Demasi at the veterans home in the interests of public safety.
After the hearing, Silver said Demasi had been a nurse for 18 years and worked at the Vermont Veterans Home for almost 20 years with no complaints of violence except for “one isolated incident.”
According to Silver, Demasi’s responded to being struck “instinctively and instantly” although he said Demasi understood there was never an excuse for a nurse to use violence against a patient.
Silver said Demasi feels “absolutely terrible” and sorry for the unintentional incident.
While several members of the Vermont State Employee Association have complained in recent months that they have been forced to work too many hours, Demasi said on Monday that the incident was not connected to being overworked or the home being understaffed.
There were about 15 people in court on Monday to support Demasi. Silver said he had letters of support from more than 30 people.