Former Meriter Hospital nurse charged with 19 counts of abuse

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV)--- A judge has set a signature bond for a former Meriter nurse accused of abusing infants at Meriter Hospital.

Christopher Kaphaem

Court records show 43-year-old Christopher Kaphaem of Middleton appeared in a Dane County courtroom on Thursday morning.

Kaphaem has been charged with 19 counts related to abuse in the NICU at Meriter Hospital. These charges include 2 counts of child neglect, 8 counts of intentional child abuse and 9 counts of patient abuse causing great bodily harm to multiple babies that were born at Meriter from March 2017 to January 2018.

A judge set his signature bond in the amount of $500 per case. The judge also ordered no contact with the victims, the victims’ families, or Meriter Hospital.

Court documents show Kaphaem has worked at Meriter Hosptial for more than 14 years. In Oct. 2016, he was permanently assigned to the NICU and worked an overnight shift.

On March 19, the Wisconsin Board of Nursing issued an interim order to suspend the nurse's license until a final decision is issued by the Board. According to the order, the nurse has had his license since 2003 and was current through 2020.

On February 15, the Division of Legal Services and Compliance opened an investigation of the nurse on behalf of the board.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services conducted a complaint investigation on February 19. According to the report, five patients had unknown injuries including from “unexplained bruising,” “bruising on face,” “scalp bruising,” and “skull fractures and arm fractures.”

Documents stated during a incident report review, the first case of abuse happened on April 12, 2017. The most recent abuse was identified on February 7.

In February, UnityPoint Health- Meriter disabled the nurse's badge access and suspended him. He was also ordered to not come on hospital premises, unless there is a medical emergency.

According to the interim order issued on March 19, the nurse is not admitting any wrongdoing. He also voluntarily agreed not to engage in the practice of professional nursing pending the investigation.

According to the criminal complaint, there were 9 infant victims who suffered abuse. The babies were found to have injuries ranging from bruising on arms and legs, a broken arm and a skull fracture as well as permanent scarring from improperly inserted IVs.

The criminal complaint said one of the victims referred to as "infant 1" suffered injuries including multiple rib fractures, metaphyseal fractures, a skull fracture and long bone fracture.

During the investigation, detectives interviewed a nurse who took care of an "infant 1" after Kaphaem’s shift. The nurse said, “never in my 32 years of working in the NICU have I ever see anything like that.”

The criminal complaint said the mother of a baby noted as "infant 3" in the documents said she had concerns about Kaphaem and would stay until his shift ended. She told police Kaphaem would appear frustrated "like he was complaining about our baby," and that his tone and facial expression would make her feel uncomfortable.

In a statement released Thursday, the Madison Police Department said, "this has been a complex and sensitive case requiring painstaking work from SVU detectives, hospital staff members, prosecutors from the Dane County District Attorney’s office, and subject matter experts in pediatric child abuse. Throughout the process, parents of victims have been updated on the progress of the investigation."

UnityPoint Health-Meriter also released a statement on Thursday, Sept. 27. It reads in part, "There is no doubt that as an organization, we all remain devastated by what happened."

It goes on to detail some of the changes the hospital has implemented to assure the "highest level of safety." That includes:

o immediately removing a NICU employee from service
o notifying law enforcement and appropriate regulatory authorities and fully cooperating throughout the process
o implementing 24/7 video monitoring in NICU patient rooms and care areas to provide an added layer of observation for our smallest patients
o establishing a Patient Care Line to address any questions or concerns regarding care in our NICU
o reviewing and updating policies and procedures for the detection and reporting of abuse, neglect and caregiver misconduct
o requiring additional education for all patient care staff and conducting ongoing audits
o using tracking tools and workflows to more closely monitor patient trends
o working with our regulators to address their concerns

Kaphaem is scheduled to make his initial appearance on October 15.