A former nurse at the Miami VA Healthcare System was sentenced to five years in prison this month after he pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges of fraud and falsifying the records of a patient who died while under his care, the Justice Department reported.
Enrique Martinez Mathews, 37, admitted to falsifying the records of a 76-year-old veteran who was recovering from heart surgery at the Miami VA hospital in September 2014. The veteran died of heart failure about 24 hours after he was assigned to Mathews’ care.
“Protecting our veterans is a national concern,” U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said in a written statement announcing the prison sentence.
According to court records, Mathews confessed to changing the patient’s records in order to avoid responsibility for misconduct and the poor of quality of care that he provided for the veteran, who was not identified.
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Mathews had no other patients on the morning of Sept. 2, 2014, when he was assigned to transfer the veteran out of the surgical intensive care unit and into a ward with a lower level of care, the court record states.
As a condition of his sentence, Enrique Martinez Mathews must permanently relinquish his license as a registered nurse to the Florida Department of Health.
The patient was stable, according to the court record, and his vital signs were within acceptable ranges. But shortly after Mathews assumed responsibility for the veteran’s care, court records state, the patient’s vital signs began to degrade — with his blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, breathing and heart rate fluctuating dangerously.
For the rest of that day, the veteran’s vitals signs were either not recorded in the computer system, or if entered, showed a serious downturn in the patient’s condition.
According to court records, there were long periods when no vital signs were entered into the patient’s record, indicating that the electronic monitoring system had been manually deactivated or its cables unplugged.
Had physicians been aware of the patient’s deteriorating condition, the records say, they would have rescinded the order to transfer the veteran to a lower-level ward.
When Mathews completed his transfer of the patient, he didn’t tell colleagues about the patient’s deteriorating condition, the record says. Instead, Mathews returned to the surgical intensive care unit and changed the patient’s medical record on a computer, making it appear that the patient had been stable throughout the day. Mathews neglected to follow Miami VA policy that changes to patients’ records must include notes indicating the reasons.
Protecting our veterans is a national concern.
Wifredo Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for South Florida
The veteran died early on the morning of Sept. 3, 2014 — a day when Mathews did not work. When he returned to work the following day, a supervisor confronted Mathews about the patient’s care, according to court documents, and Mathews again falsified the patient’s record to add notes and comments.
Miami VA officials followed up with a case review of the veteran’s death, and during questioning by a criminal investigator, Mathews confessed to changing the patient’s records, according to a court record signed by the former nurse.
In response to Mathews’ plea in December, the Florida Department of Health filed a complaint requesting that the Board of Medicine take disciplinary action, up to and including permanent revocation of his license.