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Former aide pleads guilty to abusing nursing home residents

MONTEVIDEO -- A former nursing home aide has pleaded guilty to three counts of disorderly conducted directed against vulnerable adults.

During a court appearance Monday in Montevideo, Maria Josephine Bjerke, 25, pleaded guilty to three of the six original abuse counts against her. The charges are all gross misdemeanors.

District Judge Bruce Christopherson accepted the plea agreement and ordered a pre-sentence investigation. In the plea, Bjerke, of Montevideo, admitted wrong doings against three of the six nursing home residents whom she was accused of abusing.

The complaint charged Bjerke abused the residents while she was employed from Oct. 23, 2006, to July 11, 2008, at Luther Haven Nursing Home in Montevideo. She was terminated when a co-worker reported the abuse.

The complaint charged Bjerke abused one resident by lap dancing and sexually tormenting him; screamed and laughed at others; purposely upset one woman by tossing her prized dolls on to the floor; and caused extreme physical pain to a resident by poking her finger into a cancerous hole.

Chippewa County Attorney Dwayne Knutsen described the plea agreement as an appropriate way to resolve the case.

He said it came only after discussions with the victims' family members. He said they all shared one common theme in wanting to be certain Bjerke is never allowed to work in a nursing home as a care-giver. The guilty plea will assure that she does not return to similar employment.

The case would have been difficult to prosecute. Two of the residents who were allegedly abused are now deceased. Knutsen said he did not believe the surviving residents could have testified in court, due to dementia and their age.