Woman goes on trial for allegedly neglecting mother
Laura Fritts wasn't home when an ambulance rushed her ailing mother to the hospital in February 2008. Still, Fritts is now on trial, accused of criminal neglect.
Authorities say Fritts, 64, was licensed to operate an adult foster care facility in Rochester at the time and that she knowingly let conditions exist at the facility that led to the neglect of her mother, Barbara Noyes, 78.
Fritts has pleaded not guilty to the gross misdemeanor charge. The trial got under way Thursday and could continue into Monday.
Fritts was one of three people charged in connection with the care of Noyes, a vulnerable adult suffering from Alzheimer's disease and a myriad of medical problems. She was one of four residents in Fritts' elder-care facility.
Prosecutors say Noyes was admitted to the Olmsted Medical Center emergency room on Feb. 9, 2008, for treatment of a pressure ulcer on her back. When admitted, staff at the hospital said she had an ulcer on her tailbone that was infected. Noyes died Feb. 12. The coroner listed the ulcer as a contributing cause of death, according to the complaint.
Jurors won't be told that Noyes died. Fritts and the others were not accused of causing her death.
Also charged were Kathleen Bryan of Arkansas, the victim's sister, who has pleaded guilty. An employee, Gloria Kay Darlene Graham Gleason of Winona, has pleaded not guilty; her trial is scheduled for October.
In opening statements Thursday, prosecutor Laurie Anderson told jurors that Fritts, as owner of the facility, was responsible for patient care.
"She hired the staff and set the standards," Anderson said.
At the time Fritts' mother was taken to the hospital, Fritts was in the hospital herself, where she had undergone scheduled surgery. Fritts entered the hospital on Feb. 5. Anderson said she gave no instructions to staff and left Bryan, who is not a nurse or trained professional, in charge of the foster care facility.
Anderson told jurors that the ulcer found on Noyes' tailbone had been there for some time and went unnoticed by Fritts or her staff.
Defense attorney Deanna Schleusner told jurors that Fritts had professional staff in addition to Bryan caring for residents in her absence. And, she said, when Bryan and the staff became alarmed that Noyes was deteriorating on Feb. 9, they called Fritts at the hospital and were told to call the ambulance.
Bryan was one of the early witnesses Thursday, who told of her experience caring for other family members in the past with similar conditions, including her own mother. She said she moved to Rochester to help care for her ailing sister and spent four years here helping out.
"I was not an employee,'' she told jurors. She said she helped with cooking, played card games with clients and cared for her sister.
When asked if she was left in charge when Fritts went to the hospital, she said "I guess you could say I was in charge."
She told jurors she never saw the ulcer on her sister's tailbone, even though helping her dress and change clothing.
Bryan told jurors she pleaded guilty to the criminal neglect charge because she failed to change her sister's underwear the morning Noyes was taken to the hospital. Medical staff said the undergarments were wet, a condition that could aggravate an ulcer.
"I never saw it,'' Bryan said of the sore. "I am not a nurse, and I would have freaked out and called for help."
In October 2008, Fritts was convicted by another Olmsted County jury of mistreating an 80-year-old Alzheimer's patient. She was convicted of gross misdemeanor maltreatment of a resident and ordered to pay $82 and do 90 hours community work service and be on probation for two years.