Abusive Nurse Broke Newborns' Bones, Police Say

Christopher Kaphaem, who worked in the neonatal intensive care unit, reportedly told a co-worker he preferred working with infants "because he would not have to deal with the patients talking back to him." 

A former nurse in Wisconsin is facing 19 felony counts after police say he abused nine infants in his care in a neonatal intensive care unit, breaking their bones and causing bruising on the young patients.

Christopher M. Kaphaem, 43, was charged Thursday with abuse counts ranging from child abuse to patient abuse causing great bodily harm and child neglect causing bodily harm after police say the veteran nurse abused patients in his care at the UnityPoint Health Meriter Hospital in Wisconsin from March 2017 to February of this year.  

One baby, referred to as "infant 1" in the criminal complaint, suffered multiple rib fractures, metaphyseal fractures, a skull fracture and long bone fracture while allegedly in Kaphaem's care, according to local news station WMTV.

In eight of the nine abuse cases, the babies had been born prematurely, in some cases as early as 27 weeks, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.

Other nurses who worked with Kaphaem told investigators he often closed the door when he conducted his exams and did them in dim light where visibility was low. He also reportedly ignored patient alarms and told one co-worker he preferred working with infants "because he would not have to deal with the patients talking back to him," the paper said.

The abuse was discovered in February after police were called to investigate very similar injuries that had occurred with two infants in the NICU at the time. After a child abuse expert declared  it was "very unlikely" the injuries could have been caused by more than one person, police centered in on Kaphaem, an employee of the hospital for more than 14 years who worked on the night shift.

He was suspended from the hospital on Feb. 8 and lost his license a month later, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Investigators have not released a motive in the case, but one parent did report a negative interaction with Kaphaem after he complained that his daughter's bed was wet. Another mother told investigators she was worried about the nurse and would often stay at the hospital until his shift ended, WMTV reports.

After the allegations came to light, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) inspected the hospital and issued a report claiming the hospital hadn't done enough to prevent the injuries and determined it to be an Immediate threat to patient safety.

The government organization even went as far as to threaten to terminate its contract with the hospital if the issues weren't resolved, according to the Associated Press.

Since then, the hospital has taken several steps to improve its safety, including implementing video surveillance in NICU patient rooms and care areas, updating policies for reporting suspected abuse and requiring additional training for staff members.

In a statement issued by UnityPoint Health Meriter Thursday they called the incident a "difficult journey" for the hospital's patients and employees and said they were "devastated" by what happened.

"As an organization, we will work diligently to earn back your trust," they wrote before detailing recent improvements they'd made.

Kaphaem is scheduled to make an initial court appearance in the case on Oct. 15.

[Photo: Dane County Sheriff's Office]

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