State faults worker in disabled man's drowning in bathtub

  • Article by: BRAD SCHRADE
  • Star Tribune
  • November 29, 2011 - 8:40 PM

A state worker who left a severely disabled man alone in a tub to answer a telephone call should not have been bathing him the night he drowned, according to a high-ranking state official and an investigative report issued Tuesday.

"It was impossible to do the two things she was doing at once, which is to exclusively attend to this one client and still attend to the other two" residents, said Anne Barry, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Human Services. "It was impossible to do what she knew was a requirement of that client's program plan."

Devra C. Stiles has been charged with manslaughter for her "culpable negligence" in the case, according to a criminal complaint filed two months ago in Isanti County. Though Stiles told investigators that she left Gerald Hyska in the bathtub for a "couple" of minutes on the night of Aug. 28, the department concluded that she left the water running and failed to return for 37 minutes. Hyska was one of three severely disabled residents living at the state-operated group home in Braham, Minn.

"I think I'm drowning one of my clients here," Stiles told a 911 operator, according to the DHS report. "I freaking answered the phone and then I forgot. ... My [family member] called on the phone and I went to answer it and then forgot I had the freaking water running."

Prosecutors alleged it took Stiles about 30 minutes to call 911 after spending more than six minutes on the phone with her son.

In a previous interview, Stiles' husband said the state was partly to blame for the incident, noting that staffing levels at the home have dropped over the years.

In the state report, investigators noted that two employees were on duty at the home just two hours a day in recent years, vs. seven hours a day in the early 1990s. Stiles was the only employee working that Sunday night. Other staff members told investigators the staffing levels were adequate for their duties. One unidentified worker said he or she would not answer the phone or doorbell when bathing Hyska.

Hyska, who had lived with severe brain damage since birth, couldn't speak or stay upright by himself. His safety care plan, which Stiles wrote, indicated he should never be left alone in a bathtub, according to the state report.

Though Stiles tried to revive Hyska after she found him in the tub, she failed to properly administer CPR, even though she received CPR training in June, the report said.

Investigators did not blame the facility for Hyska's death, but they said the facility's report on the incident was incomplete and confusing.

Brad Schrade • 612-673-4777

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