A bedridden, 84-year-old woman at a county-owned rehabilitation facility in Centre, Ala., was left unattended for 11 hours while ants bit her an estimated 100 times, officials with the state attorney general's office said.
The September 2016 incident led to criminal charges for three employees of the Cherokee County Health and Rehabilitation Center next door to the county health department on Cedar Bluff Road.
Michele Curry, a 42-year-old licensed practical nurse from Centre, and certified nursing assistants Kacey Allen, 28, of Centre, and Shawna Rogers, 26, of Rome, Ga., each were charged Friday with second-degree elder abuse/neglect, according to a statement from Alabama Attorney General Steven T. Marshall. The state office's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit presented evidence resulting in indictments issued Feb. 15 by the Cherokee County grand jury.
Investigators say Curry, Allen and Rogers were responsible for the woman's care the night of Sept. 3, 2016, and into the next morning when the bugs attacked the bedridden octogenarian.
"They all charted that they had entered the room numerous times throughout the night. A review of the surveillance video showed none of the three entered the room for approximately 11 hours," Marshall said in the statement. "When the resident was checked on it was discovered that she had suffered approximately 100 ant bites."
Authorities said the "intentional neglect directly contributed" to the woman's injuries.
A charge of elder abuse and neglect is a class B felony that carries a potential sentence of two to 20 years in prison.
In his statement on the arrests, Marshall commended Cherokee County Health and Rehabilitation Center officials for their "quick reporting of the incident."
Administrator Cindy Cline said Monday facility officials "immediately intervened" as soon as the biting ants were discovered, and Curry, Allen and Rogers were "immediately relieved of duty."
Cline said the incident then was reported to "our licensing entities, the state and the board of nursing."
The three accused caregivers were fired soon thereafter, she said.
Cline said officials were told the biting bugs were Argentine ants, a species native to Argentina and other South American countries. They are considered a nuisance pest in Alabama, where they can be seen marching in wide, noticeable lines or trails filing into homes and buildings, according to the Alabama Extension System.
The injured woman has recovered fully "with no lasting effects," Cline said.
Officials want to reassure families of patients at the facility in Centre, she said.
"We regret that this happened, and we were shocked as anyone else," Cline said of the incident. "We'll continue to strive to provide excellent care to our residents."
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.