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Nurse accused of amputating foot without permission barred from caretaking work

The ban, one of several bail conditions, is in effect until the Wisconsin woman’s criminal elder abuse case is resolved.

ELLSWORTH, Wis. (CN) — A Wisconsin nursing home staffer who authorities say removed a patient’s foot without permission and told colleagues she planned to display it in her family’s taxidermy shop will not be working as a nurse until her case is resolved, per bail conditions set at her first court appearance on Tuesday. 

Mary Brown, 38 of Durand, Wisconsin, appeared before Pierce County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Rohl in a brief hearing Tuesday morning, where the judge set her bail conditions and released her with a $100,000 bond. Among those conditions were an assurance that she would not work or volunteer in a caretaking capacity, along with bans on contact with the victim’s family and with the care center where she worked when she allegedly amputated his foot. 

News of Brown’s charges broke on Nov. 8, about a week after prosecutors filed a complaint saying that she had removed a 62-year-old patient’s foot without the consent or direction of a doctor. The complaint charged Brown, a nurse at the Spring Valley Health and Rehab Center in the town of Spring Valley, with physical abuse of an elder person and mayhem, with increased penalties to both crimes for the age of her alleged victim. 

According to reporting by The Washington Post following the announcement of charges, Brown and her colleagues knew the victim was near death by the end of May. He had arrived at Spring Valley in March after a fall at home. When the heat went out, he had suffered severe frostbite on both feet. Tracy Reitz, Spring Valley’s director of nursing, said the man had rolled out of bed a few days before the amputation and his foot was “dead, foul smelling, and… held on by a tendon,” according to the complaint. 

Several of Brown’s colleagues and two supervisors told investigators that on the evening of May 27, Brown, seeing the state of the foot, took gauze scissors to the holdout tendon. Both Brown and another nurse in the room were unsure what to do with the severed foot, and a supervisor eventually told them to place it in a biohazard bag in a freezer. 

The foot, the other nurse told investigators, was not bleeding during or after the amputation, and the man didn’t appear to be in pain during the removal. Other nurses disputed this, with one saying that he had let out a moan. The man had also apologized for the smell of the foot on several occasions.

Reitz and Spring Valley Rehab Centers Administrator Kevin Larson agreed that the foot should have been removed by a doctor or at least with a doctor’s approval, but that Brown had removed the foot out of compassion for the patient. Larson added that the man’s hospice doctor would almost certainly have authorized the amputation if Brown had asked. 

Brown had asked Larson for permission to amputate the foot some days prior, but he had told her to stabilize it instead, thinking the man would likely die within a few hours. 

Complicating the issue were some of Brown’s statements after the amputation. While apologizing to one of her fellow nurses for the amputation, the complaint said, Brown said she intended to preserve the foot and display it at her family’s taxidermy shop with a sign that said “wear your boots, kids.” 

Police began investigating the incident after the man’s death in early June. He was sent to a hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, for an autopsy, with his severed right foot lying beside him.  

Brown, who was unrepresented at Tuesday’s hearing, kept tight-lipped in the courtroom. Rohl ran through a number of procedural issues, noting that Brown could preserve each until a public defender is appointed for her. 

Pierce County District Attorney Halle Hatch sought a $150,000 bond for Brown, with $50,000 of that total in cash bail. She argued that substantial media attention to the case created a flight risk for Brown. 

Rohl cut the cash requirement from Hatch’s request, noting that the investigation had been underway “for some time, including throughout the summer,” and that she was satisfied that the signature bond would be sufficient incentive for Brown to return to court. She set a status conference for Dec. 14, adding that Brown would hopefully have an attorney appointed by that time. 

The judge otherwise granted Hatch’s requests for bail conditions, including no contact with Spring Valley or the man’s family. Her ban on working as a caretaker expanded on Hatch’s more lenient request that she abide by professional ethics and training should she take on more nursing work. 

If Brown is convicted, she could face up to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

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