Christopher Kaphaem, 43, is willing to plead guilty to 19 felony child abuse counts, according to his attorney. The plea deal would ensure that the former nurse avoids a trial.
Kaphaem, a former NICU nurse at UnityPoint Health-Meriter Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, is charged with injuring nine infants in the intensive care unit. Police began investigating the alleged crimes in February 2018 after hospital staff had documented injuries to nine newborns, including bruising, broken ribs, broken legs and a fractured skull.
According to Kaphaem’s attorney, Jonas Bednarek, his client “is prepared to accept responsibility and enter pleas of guilty.” The hospital suspended the nurse on February 8, 2018, and state regulators later suspended his license. Meriter has since installed 24/7 video monitoring in its NICU as well as new tools to monitor patient trends, a hospital spokesperson told WKOW.
At a hearing last December, Dr. Barbara Knox, a child abuse pediatrician, described the injuries she observed on one of the infants as bilateral forearm bruising and bilateral hand bruising. An earlier criminal complaint revealed a range of injuries to infants in Meriter’s NICU between March 2017 and February 2018, including those inflicted on a child identified as Infant 1, which were listed as “fracture to his skull, a wrist fracture, and a left humerus fracture.”
A doctor at Meriter hospital called in Dr. Knox in February of 2018 after detecting abnormal injuries on an infant. Knox testified that the doctor asked her if he should consider the infant a victim of “suspected, accidental trauma,” to which she responded, “absolutely.” The complaint also describes other injuries to infants, including significant swelling to limbs and wounds from the improper introduction of IVs.
The infant that Knox examined suffered 17 fractures, including one to the skull and eight to his ribs. She stated that the rib injuries were “indicative of someone performing forces to that child,” describing them as “squeeze-type forces that are in way excess of any normal care.”
The complaint also stated that nurse Karin Smylie observed one infant with bruises to the palm of the hand. “Never in my 32 years working in NICU have I ever seen anything like that,” she stated. Additionally, nurses observed that Kaphaem had also cared for an infant with low light behind closed doors and would frequently reject offers of help for care.
Kaphaem worked as a nurse at Meriter for fourteen years. He previously worked at UW Hospital before being terminated, according to a source. Federal officials cited Meriter Hospital for inadequately responding to the patient injuries, with an “immediate jeopardy violation” of one of the sanctions.