Home nurse who stole from 97-year-old guilty of misconduct

Nurse accused of misconduct after being caught taking money on hidden camera

According to her solicitor, the nurse in question has suffered greatly over the past year as a result of her actions

According to her solicitor, the nurse in question has suffered greatly over the past year as a result of her actions

 

A home-help nurse who regularly stole money from a 97-year-old, wheelchair-bound woman has been found guilty on two counts of professional misconduct at the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland.

Edel Maria Fitzgerald was also found guilty of breaching the code of professional conduct for nurses in relation to the theft of money from Elizabeth O’Callaghan, who is since deceased.

The board will consider the findings of its fitness to practice committee and decide on sanctions at a later date.

The thefts came to light when Ms O’Callaghan’s daughter placed hidden cameras in her mother’s bedroom, which showed Ms Fitzgerald taking €50 sums belonging to Ms O’Callaghan on a number of occasions.

Ms Fitzgerald, a psychiatric nurse from Tralee and long-time family friend of the O’Callaghans, was arrested in April 2014 and taken to the local Garda station, where she made a statement admitting the thefts.

Ms Fitzgerald resigned from her employer, Home Instead, which thought she left because of inadequate hours.

She contacted Ms O’Callaghan’s daughter, Josephine Dennehy, after the arrest, apologised and paid back some of the money. No prosecution was taken.

Ms Dennehy claimed Tim Healy, the local franchise owner of Home Instead, brokered the repayment by Ms Fitzgerald of the money stolen after saying the publicity would be “shocking” for her.

Mr Healy denied this, and said he wouldn’t have said anything to prejudice a Garda inquiry.

Later, Ms O’Callaghan’s family were shocked to learn Ms Fitzgerald was still working as a nurse for the HSE and her granddaughter, Linda O’Callaghan, made a complaint to the nursing board.

Ms Dennehy said the first-time the family noticed money was missing was at Christmas 2012, when money was needed for coal. Her mother’s purse should have had €2,100 in it but there was just €15.

“That’s when we started to panic,” she told the inquiry. She began to count the money in her mother’s purse and noticed some was always missing after Ms Fitzgerald’s shift.

The family tried out cameras to catch her taking the money but couldn’t get proper footage until they used a clock camera in her mother’s bedroom.

“We had to do it so many times, you got one hour after the chip was put in the camera, and you had to angle it properly.”

The inquiry played CCTV footage showing Ms Fitzgerald settling the pillows for Ms O’Callaghan in her bed. While talking to the 97-year-old, she removes her wallet from its hiding-place in one of the pillows, takes out a note and places it in her left pocket. She then puts back the wallet and finishes settling the pillows.

Ms Dennehy said after Ms Fitzgerald was arrested, Mr Healy came to her house. He asked her not to have Ms Fitzgerald charged.

He said Ms Fitzgerald would be “front page news” in Kerry’s Eye.

Mr Healy denied he facilitated repayments by Ms Fitzgerald to the family or made a number of personal comments about the carer as alleged by Ms Dennehy. He wouldn’t have said anything to prejudice a Garda inquiry, he said.

Ms Fitzgerald repaid the O’Callaghans €3,800 in the months that followed the discovery of her theft.

Ms Dennehy said she initially felt sorry for Ms Fitzgerald but doesn’t now. “If she was so sorry, she wouldn’t have told so many lies after.”

Within a week of agreeing she wouldn’t work again with older people, Ms Fitzgerald was working in a nursing home in Killarney, Ms Dennehy said.

Ms Fitzgerald had admitted taking the money and is taking responsibility for her actions but would not be giving evidence to the inquiry, her solicitor, Kirsty Kavanagh, said.

Ms Kavanagh said her client has suffered greatly over the past 12 months as a result of her action.

She suffers panic attacks and the investigation had a very negative effect on her.

She said Ms Fitzgerald was in the building but would not, on medical advice, be giving evidence.

While Ms Dennehy dropped the charges, her daughter Linda O’Callaghan brought a complaint to the nursing board. Ms Dennehy said the case had caused chaos in her family and had “torn it apart”.