NEWARK – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced that the State Board of Nursing has temporarily suspended the certification of a certified homemaker-home health aide (“CHHA”) who was arrested for allegedly assaulting an elderly resident of the Camden County psychiatric hospital where she worked.
Debra L. Matela, 43, of Turnersville, was arrested on February 26 and charged with simple assault on an institutionalized elderly person for allegedly causing a 73-year-old mentally ill resident to fall from her wheelchair while Matela was working as a Certified Nurse Aide (“CNA”) at the Northbrook Behavioral Health Hospital in Blackwood.
In addition to her CNA certification, which is issued by the Department of Health, Matela is certified by the Board of Nursing as a CHHA. After receiving notice of Matela’s arrest, the Board moved to investigate the allegations and suspend Matela’s CHHA certification. Matela voluntarily surrendered her certification pending the disposition of all criminal charges against her and pending further action by the Board, according to a Consent Order with the Board.
“Any time a certified homemaker-home health aide is arrested, either on or off the job, it raises serious concerns about their ability to provide quality care. But when the charges involve assault on an elderly patient, swift intervention is needed to protect the public,” said Attorney General Porrino. “By moving quickly to obtain a temporary suspension of this CHHA’s certification, we are fulfilling our commitment to protect vulnerable elderly patients from the threat of abuse.”
“Certified homemaker-home health aides spend long stretches alone with patients, many of whom cannot fend for themselves. It is imperative that they be held to the highest professional standards possible,” said Steve Lee, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “Until these disturbing allegations are resolved, this individual will be prohibited from working as a certified home healthcare provider.”
The Department of Health summarily suspended Matela’s CNA certification following her arrest.
CHHAs are employees of healthcare service firms that work under the direction of registered professional nurses to perform tasks for elderly, disabled, or sick patients. CHHAs help patients dress, take a bath, and use the toilet or bedpan. They may also prepare patient meals, do light laundering, tidy the patient's room, run errands and assist with exercise regimens.
The demand for in-home care has caused the number of CHHAs to swell across the country and around the state. In the last decade, the number of CHHAs certified to work in the state has increased from 26,618 to 43,506. As the number of CHHAs grows, and more homes open their doors to them, the potential for abuse and other patient-related crimes increases.
In December 2016, to address growing concerns about in-home patient abuse, Attorney General Porrino and the Division launched the “Safe Care Cam” program that makes micro-surveillance cameras available for free 30-day loans to anyone who suspects their loved one is being abused or neglected by home health aides or other in-home caregivers. To date, the Division has received dozens of requests from consumers eager to borrow a camera to make sure their loved ones are being cared for properly and numerous cameras are currently installed in homes around the state.
Investigators with the Enforcement Bureau within the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted the investigation into the allegations against Matela.
Deputy Attorney General Wendy Leggett-Faulk of the Consumer Affairs Counseling Section of the Division of Law is representing the State in this matter.
Patients who believe that they have been treated by a licensed health care professional in an inappropriate manner can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.
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