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An assisted living worker accused of failing to protect a resident from freezing to death faces a second-degree murder charge and up to 50 years in prison if convicted.

Lynne Harriet Stewart froze to death in January outside Courtyard Estates at Hawthorne Crossing, an assisted living community in Bondurant, IA, after leaving the facility in weather that dipped below zero degrees, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Despite a door and facility alarms both triggering alerts throughout the night, a worker assigned to Stewart did not check on her, the media report stated. 

Stewart reportedly was found outside the exit door to the facility the next morning. She went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance and was pronounced dead at the hospital, the media outlet reported.

Catherine Forkpa, a caregiver who had worked at the community for seven months, was fired, according to the media outlet, and four other employees were given written warnings for their failure to respond to the door alarms.

According to a state investigation, the facility’s executive director received a series of text message alerts when door alarms were triggered at the facility, but she slept through those alerts. The facility’s on-call registered nurse reportedly received a similar series of alerts but failed to respond, saying mechanical defects caused the alarms on Stewart’s room to trigger “constantly.” 

Courtyard Estates was fined $10,000 by the state and cited for failing to provide Forkpa with required dementia training during her first month on the job. 

Forkpa now faces a second-degree murder charge for dependent adult abuse and intentional reckless abuse. She faces up to 50 years in prison. Her trial is scheduled for Nov. 14.

Another freezing death draws civil suit

In a similar case still underway, Elaine Creasey, 95, froze to death outside Keelson Harbour, a Spirit Lake, IA, assisted living community, in December 2021. 

According to the media outlet, Creasey wandered from her room shortly before 10 p.m. on Dec. 8, setting off a door alarm that was not checked by staff. Creasey was found the next morning outside the facility. Her death was attributed to hypothermia after temperatures dipped to 14 degrees.

Creasey’s family filed suit against Keelson Harbour and the temp agency that employed Brooke Arndt, the worker who reportedly did not check on the resident and silenced the door alarm. The community and worker are accused of negligence and reckless disregard for another’s safety, alleging that Creasey “suffered immensely, both physically and mentally” before dying. The trial is scheduled for Aug. 15.

The community was fined $10,000 by the state for staff training violations. Arndt was not criminally charged, but the Iowa Board of Nursing charged her with committing an act that “causes injury” and with failure to properly assess, evaluate or accurately document a resident’s status.

As part of a settlement agreement with the nursing board, Arndt received a one-year license probation and was required to complete 30 hours of additional professional education.