Destini Fenbert (left) and Rachel Friesel sign guilty pleas on charges related to the January death of Phyllis J. Campbell, a resident at Hilty Home, Pandora. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)
Destini Fenbert (left) and Rachel Friesel sign guilty pleas on charges related to the January death of Phyllis J. Campbell, a resident at Hilty Home, Pandora. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)

OTTAWA — Two defendants facing charges related to the death of a Hilty Memorial Home resident last January have entered guilty pleas in Putnam County Common Pleas Court. In separate change of plea hearings on Thursday, Destini Fenbert, 20, and Rachel Friesel, 36, pleaded guilty to forgery, a felony of the fifth degree, and gross patient neglect, a first-degree misdemeanor.

Initial charges against both included involuntary manslaughter, a third-degree felony, and patient neglect, a misdemeanor of the second degree. However, a plea deal offered to both women by Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers on Aug. 1 removed these charges in exchange for guilty pleas to the charges of forgery and gross patient neglect.

During both proceedings, Lammers assured the court of constant communication with the victim’s family, and their acceptance of the deal as it was offered to Fenbert and Friesel.

The charges stemmed from the death of Phyllis J. Campbell, a 76-year-old resident in memory care at Hilty Memorial Home, Pandora. Campbell was discovered in the facility’s courtyard at approximately 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 7. Putnam County Coroner Ann Horstman determined hypothermia as the cause of death and estimated Campbell died sometime early that morning, between 2 and 3 a.m. A subsequent Ohio Department of Health investigation found the WanderGuard unit, a device used to advise nursing staff of the whereabouts of memory care patients, failed to set off alarms. Also discovered were bedcheck records signed by the defendants indicating Campbell was in the facility as she froze to death outside.

After reading the specifics of the two charges, but before accepting the pleas, Common Pleas Court Judge Keith Schierloh directed both women to give an account of their actions on the morning of Campbell’s death.

Fenbert, who worked the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift and who appeared first in court, stammered her way through a recounting of having helped Campbell open a bag of cookies when she first arrived for work and having overheard a conversation between two fellow staff members.

“I heard a conversation that when she came out of the Alzheimer’s Unit, her WanderGuard didn’t go off, the door alarm didn’t go off,” Fenbert said. “The doors were propped open, which is how we’ve always done it on third shift. So I heard that conversation, so I assumed the nurse had been notified to that. Because of that, I assumed (the nurse) had changed it, because, as an aid, we’re not allowed to change the WanderGuard alarms.”

Fenbert then said she left Campbell “supervised” at a table in view of her wing’s nurses station. Continuing her chronology, she then stated, “It was around midnight and the nurse had taken PJ to her bedroom and the nurse notified me that she took her to the restroom and put her to bed. Because of this, I counted her going to bed at midnight as her being checked on that first set of rounds.”

Rounds, Fenbert told the court, typically take 90 minutes to two hours to complete.

“You state you do these checks and they take approximately two hours,” Schierloh said. “How many checks did you do over the course of a shift? Three?”

“The way I was trained to do third shift, we normally only do two, because the second one always takes longer because people want to get washed up,” Fenbert replied. “And, yes.”

“How many are you reporting that you did?” Schierloh countered. “Two or three checks?”

“Two,” Fenbert responded. “I believe.”

During Friesel’s appearance, and as Schierloh read the particulars of the charge of gross negligence, particulars that include “…when she knowingly failed to provide Phyllis J. Campbell with treatment, care, goods, or services that was necessary to maintain her health or safety and the failure resulted in physical harm or serious physical harm in the form of Phyllis J. Campbell’s death…”, the defendant broke down and cried.

“I didn’t come in until 2 a.m.,” Friesel said through sobs. “Because they were short-staffed, so I came in early. They said they’d put PJ to bed at, like, 12:30 or something. Nobody said anything about 2 o’clock rounds, so I assumed they did them. At the nursing home, they only do rounds twice a night. They do them at 12 and they start the last ones at 4. So I never went in to check on her until last rounds. Well, I did the majority of the work that night. I was in one room and Destini was in another room, ‘cause we didn’t work together. We just kind of went from room to room. I didn’t see her, so I assumed she was in PJ’s room. At the end of the night when we get asked how PJ was, Destini said she was good, so I just assumed she’d checked on her. And when we do books, you don’t do books on who you checked on, you just kind of split it. So that’s why I ended up charting on PJ.”

“So you agree at this time, part of your responsibilities was to check on her,” Schierloh said.

“And I didn’t,” Friesel said.

“Then you identify in the documentation that you did,” Schierloh said.

“Yes,” Friesel responded.

“And you state you were only there for the second round?” Schierloh asked.

“Yeah,” Friesel said. “I came in from 2 to 6 a.m.”

Sentencing hearings for both defendants are scheduled for Friday, Sept. 28. The state has recommended community control in both cases.

A full jury trial is scheduled in the indictment State of Ohio v. Megan Schnipke, a third defendant in the case and the licensed practical nurse on duty on the morning of Campbell’s death. Schnipke faces charges of forgery, gross patient neglect and patient neglect.