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Murder Trial Begins for Ex-Nursing Aide

Aug 20, 2003 | AP

When Alzheimer's patient William Neff died three years ago at age 83, officials at the nursing home where the decorated World War II veteran lived attributed his passing to natural causes.

But a funeral director who noticed the bruises on Neff's body became suspicious and contacted authorities. A grand jury later concluded that Neff had been savagely kicked by a nurses' aide, then denied medical care for a week by staff trying to cover up the assault.

On Wednesday, a Bucks County jury was scheduled to begin hearing testimony in the trial of Heidi Tenzer, the former aide who prosecutors say attacked Neff around 2 a.m. after he soiled his bed at the Alterra Clair Bridge assisted living facility in Lower Makefield.

Tenzer "just lost it," said First Assistant District Attorney David W. Zellis, who made his opening statement Tuesday.

Tenzer, 34, who has been jailed on $1 million bail since her arrest in October, has pleaded innocent. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

An autopsy found that Neff, whose family paid $3,600 a month for his care, suffered five fractured ribs, a collapsed lung and internal bleeding. He died Sept. 11, 2000, six days after the alleged attack.

"He was a fighter and he held out for six days, despite the fact that no one at that facility did anything to relieve his pain or get medical assistance for him," Zellis said.

Three other former Alterra workers, including the facility's administrator, and a visiting hospice worker were charged with neglect and failing to report the alleged abuse. They are scheduled to be tried separately.

Alterra said in court documents that its own investigation turned up no evidence to indicate culpability on behalf of employees.

"Where the prosecution thinks that they have proof beyond a reasonable doubt, they're going to have a big hole on their hands," Tenzer's lawyer, Richard Fink, told WCAU-TV.

While no one witnessed the alleged attack, a private duty nurse heard a ruckus in Neff's room and then saw Tenzer come out, the prosecutor said.

In May, the state Department of Public Welfare announced plans to revoke the home's license. Alterra continues to operate the facility pending an appeal, DPW spokeswoman Stacey Ward said.

Alterra, which declared bankruptcy earlier this year, operates about 400 assisted-living residences in 24 states, including a dozen in Pennsylvania.

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