Woman gets jail time after elderly patient left out in cold

ASHLEY COOK

IRON MOUNTAIN — A Vulcan woman will spend seven months in jail for a December incident in which she fell asleep while supervising elderly patients at a memory care/assisted living facility in Norway, leading a man to be shut outside for several hours in below-freezing temperatures.

The 96-year-old man died April 8 from complications of hypothermia and dementia, according to a letter his family submitted to Dickinson County Circuit Court.

In addition to jail time, 23-year-old Ashley Lynn Cook must serve 15 months of probation, perform 120 hours of community service, pay restitution in an amount yet to be determined and not provide care for anyone age 62 or older or any disabled adults.

Cook was sentenced Tuesday in circuit court after pleading no contest to a high court misdemeanor charge of attempted vulnerable adult abuse-second degree.

The elderly man left the memory care/assisted living facility about 1:30 a.m. Dec. 31 and ended up in a fenced-in patio area, according to the criminal complaint.

Although an alarm sounded, Cook — an employee responsible for patient care and supervision — shut it off without checking the patio, the complaint stated.

Cook told Judge Mary Barglind she was sleeping at the time because she had been awake for three straight days working shifts and caring for her family at home.

The man attempted to get back inside and pounded on the door, according to the complaint, but Cook didn’t realize he was missing until about 5 a.m.

He was found unresponsive and comatose with severe hypothermia and pneumonia requiring hospitalization, the complaint stated.

The man’s family did not appear at Cook’s sentencing hearing, but his son sent a letter for Dickinson County Prosecutor Lisa Richards to read aloud.

The son believed Cook’s negligence hastened his father’s death, pointing to Christmas photos of him alert and well-nourished and then photos from early April showing he had “wasted away to 100 pounds.”

Referring to a growing elderly population, the son urged the court to send a message that health care workers need to realize the great responsibility they have and be held accountable if they neglect it.

A light jail or probation sentence for Cook would be unacceptable, he added.

Although Cook may not have intended to harm the man, her behavior was “grossly negligent,” Richards said.

Richards asked for a sentence on the upper end of the sentencing guidelines of up to nine months, noting her office already showed leniency to Cook by dropping the original felony charge.

Defense attorney Daniel Anderson urged the court to impose the probation department’s recommended sentence of three months.

Cook only has one previous misdemeanor conviction, no drug history and fully understands how her actions greatly affected the victim and his family, Anderson said.

Cook apologized to the victim’s family, saying she never meant for the incident to happen. She said she will not do nursing or medical work again.

Barglind said she believed Cook was remorseful. However, the judge agreed with the victim’s son that Cook’s sentence needs to send a message to the community.

Cook was the only person from the memory care/assisted living facility charged with criminal offenses in this incident, Richards said.

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