Psych aide accused of giving patient nails to eat

February 12, 2009 5:34:55 PM PST
A state mental hospital worker gave four nails to a patient, who swallowed them at the worker's behest, authorities said Thursday. Athena Marie Sidlar, a 27-year-old psychiatric aide in training at Allentown State Hospital, was charged with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.

The 18-year-old patient told investigators that Sidlar gave her the nails last month, described swallowing them herself and encouraged the woman to eat them, state police said. The patient had to have the nails removed from her stomach, authorities said.

A nurse noticed Sidlar and the patient had been spending a lot of time together and said Sidlar was reprimanded for talking about her own "swallowing issues" in front of the patient, investigators said.

Sidlar, of Bath, was interviewed by detectives Jan. 24 at a hospital in Bethlehem where she was being treated for swallowing numerous metal objects, including nails. Sidlar admitted bringing the nails to Allentown State Hospital on Jan. 22 but denied giving them to the patient, police said.

Sidlar was arraigned Thursday before District Justice Carl Balliet in Allentown, with unsecured bail set at $50,000. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Feb. 19.

A home phone listing for Sidlar could not be found. Balliet's office was closed late Thursday afternoon and it was unclear whether Sidlar was represented by an attorney at her arraignment.

A Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman said Sidlar had been hired in September and was suspended without pay Jan. 26 pending an investigation.

"We're obviously very concerned about the actions of our staff, and we will take all necessary actions as quickly as possible pending the outcome of our investigation," said the spokeswoman, Stacey Witalec.

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