Nurses fired for allegedly taping patient's mouth shut
Health care • Utah County hospital investigation leads to terminations.
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Two nurses were fired from Utah Valley Regional Medical Center after they allegedly taped a patient's mouth closed to stop her teeth from chattering and then laughed at her.

Hospital spokeswoman Janet Frank confirmed the two nurses were fired Wednesday following an internal investigation of the Dec. 17 incident.

Brittany Bilson and Somaya Andreason filed a complaint with the hospital, alleging that their mother, Penny Artalejo, had been mistreated while in the hospital's intensive care unit.

In an interview Thursday, Artalejo said she suffers from chronic neck pain caused by herniated disks. On occasion, the pain becomes severe enough to cause nausea and sometimes can lead to panic attacks.

That happened Saturday when she was taken by ambulance to the emergency room at Utah Valley Regional. She was transferred to the ICU where, she said, her mouth was taped shut and she was laughed at by a male and a female nurse.

An anxiety attack was making her teeth chatter, she explained. In an effort to stop it, the nurses put tape from her chin up across her nose to her eyebrows. They then put tape horizontally across her face to hold the vertical piece in place.

"It was pretty demeaning. It made me feel bad," she said. "But they thought it was pretty funny."

Artalejo said the nurses knew what they were doing was wrong. "The female nurse said, 'If we get caught, we'll get fired.' "

Andreason and Bilson were furious when their mother told them about the incident the next day, Bilson said.

On Dec. 18, the pair confronted the head nurse on the floor where their mother was treated, Bilson said, but he denied the allegation.

Andreason and Bilson then filed a complaint with the hospital administration.

"They called me Monday morning and told me they were investigating and that they were taking it very seriously," Bilson said.

Thursday, Artalejo said she was saddened to learn the nurses lost their jobs just before Christmas.

They could also face discipline by the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing. Frank said the incident would be reported to DOPL's nursing board.

But Bilson said it was necessary. "We don't think those people should be in the position to treat any other person like that."

The hospital released a statement, saying that such "allegations go against our core values and poor treatment of any patient is not acceptable."

csmart@sltrib.com