9 infant victims detailed in child abuse complaint against former Meriter Hospital nurse
MADISON, Wis. — A former Meriter Hospital nurse faces 19 felony counts of child abuse in connection with his work in a neonatal intensive care unit earlier this year.
Christopher Kaphaem, 43, is charged with multiple counts of intentional child abuse and abuse of a patient causing great bodily harm to a total of nine babies born at Meriter from March 2017 February of 2018.
#Breaking: former Meriter NICU nurse Christopher Kaphaem facing 19 counts of felony child abuse and intent to abuse patients. He was removed from Meriter following a criminal investigation into abuse of infant patients @uph_meriter in Feb.
— Keely Arthur (@news3keely) September 27, 2018
News 3 first reported the investigation into the nurse’s activities in February, when hospital officials discovered unexplained bruises on babies. Five babies were found to have injuries ranging from bruising on arms and legs to a broken arm and a skull fracture.
In court Thursday, a judge ordered a signature bond for Kaphaem and said he could have no contact with victims, victims’ families or Meriter Hospital.
Court documents show that police responded to an initial call for unexplained injuries to two babies on Feb. 9. Police say an attending doctor reported unexplained bruises to the arms of a baby, as well as a skull fracture and swelling to the head. A second infant who was born in November 2017 had wrist fractures that a doctor ultimately deemed were consistent with someone squeezing the baby’s wrist.
Following those initial reports, court documents indicate UnityPoint-Meriter set up a hotline for patients, which resulted in the examination by doctors at UW Hospital and the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital of 40 infants who had been patients in the NICU.
Details from those examinations resulted in nine infants being detailed as being victims of abuse in the criminal complaint against Kaphaem.
Those victims had injuries ranging from severe bruising on hands, bruising marks on legs, rib and wrist fractures, as well as permanent scarring from improperly inserted IVs.
Meriter staff interviewed by police noted that Kaphaem would regularly keep doors closed when he did care exams. Others noted that two infants had “bad IV infiltrates” inserted by Kaphaem that resulted in purple, swollen arms and needed holes poked in their arms to relieve pressure. None of those employees are noted as reporting this to hospital leadership.
The mother of a baby noted as “infant 3” in the court documents said she had concerns about Kaphaem and would stay until his shift ended. She told police Kaphaem would appear frustrated “like he was complaining about our baby,” and that his tone and facial expression would make her feel uncomfortable.
In a statement released Thursday, UnityPoint Health-Meriter said that the organization remains “devastated by what happened.”
“We know this has been a difficult journey for our patients, their families, our employees who serve them and our community,” Meriter said in the statement. “As an organization, we will work diligently to earn back your trust.”
Meriter detailed a number of steps they have taken to increase safety, including implementing 24/7 video monitoring in patient rooms and care areas and updating policies for detection and reporting of abuse.
— Jessica Arp (@news3jessica) September 27, 2018
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services have conducted multiple federal investigations of Meriter operations as a result of the abuse allegations. An initial investigation made a finding of ” immediate jeopardy ” to patients and found Meriter did not do enough to protect patients. Meriter initiated a plan of correction on those violations, but two subsequent violations found additional issues at the hospital. Additional corrections were ultimately accepted by CMS and the hospital was cleared in June.
Meriter tells News 3 that Kaphaem is the only employee who was suspended and removed from service in connection to this incident.
The Madison Police Department released a statement Wednesday about the investigation they started on Feb. 9.
“Original reports involved two babies. Working with Meriter staff members, additional victims were identified. Detectives were able to determine all were injured while under the care of a single nurse, Christopher M. Kaphaem,” MPD Public Information Office Joel DeSpain said in the statement. “This has been a complex and sensitive case requiring painstaking work from SVU detectives, hospital staff members, prosecutors from the Dane County District Attorney’s Office, and subject matter experts in pediatric child abuse. Throughout the process, parents of victims have been updated on the progress of the investigation.”
DeSpain said SVU detectives and representatives from the DA’s office met with parents Tuesday to let them know Kaphaem would be charged Wednesday with 19 felonies in connection with injuries to 9 infants.
Editors note: A previous version of this story indicated that 10 victims were detailed in the criminal complaint. A further examination of court documents found prosecutors numbered victims 1-10, but failed to include “infant 6” in their list of victims. Given that omission, only nine victims are listed. News 3 regrets the initial error in our reporting.
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