MAY 18, 2012 8:57 a.m. (0)
The arrest of two Charles Lea Center employees for allegedly abusing a vulnerable adult by leaving a 39-year-old woman to lie in her own feces for 20 hours over the Easter weekend is just part of a larger pattern of abuse and neglect found across the state at facilities supervised by the state Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, critics of the agency say.
Earlier this year, state Department of Health and Environmental Control examiners cited the Greenville Disabilities and Special Needs Board for failing to adequately deal with problems that led to the death of a 36-year-old woman in February and, in an unrelated event, the arrest of a Greenville DSN employee for abusing a client at a workshop by stomping on his foot.
Patricia Harrison, an attorney from Columbia who has dealt with issues surrounding the state DDSN for years, said the incidents, while unrelated, are indicative of a larger problem at DDSN-supervised facilities.
“These kind of incidents crop up all the time around the state,” Harrison said. “While the incident in Spartanburg is not particularly heinous, there have been incidents in the past that have been – including one that is very similar to the Patient ‘H’ incident (in Greenville) that resulted in a death.”
DDSN spokeswoman Lois Park Mole would not comment on Harrison’s allegations since Harrison is involved in several lawsuits against state agencies.
However, she said incidents like the occurrence in Spartanburg “are taken very seriously by DDSN. Providing care, particularly 24-hour care, for individuals with disabilities is a very serious and difficult task. Quality assurance and external reviews by DHEC and federally recognized quality improvement organizations are essential.
“Proper training of staff on issues occurs before people go on the job and continues on preventing abuse, negligence and exploitation after employees are hired. When an employee behaves badly, DDSN cooperates fully with law enforcement to ensure proper actions are taken.”
Harrison said the public rarely learns about incidents like the death of Patient “H” in Greenville unless an outside agency is called in, or, as in the case of the Charles Lea Center Easter incident, EMS files a report as technicians did when they discovered the injured woman in an assisted-living house on Union Street.
In the Easter weekend incident, EMS had to break through a window at the residence to get to the woman, and found her covered in feces and urine.
Spartanburg Public Safety officers charged Allyssa Bell and Marcia Jaggers, two employees of Charles Lea, with abuse of a vulnerable adult.
Police reports say Bell moved the woman’s wheelchair away from her bed. The woman had to crawl on the floor in an effort to reach her wheelchair and became stuck.
The woman called Jaggers on her cellphone, but Jaggers ignored the calls. The victim spent 20 hours on the floor without being checked on. She was supposed to be checked every three hours.
Gerald Bernard, the center’s executive director, said in a previous statement that Bell is no longer with the agency and Jaggers is on unpaid leave pending the results of an internal investigation.
Bernard said the woman was taken to the hospital and has been returned to the group home.
He said this is the first case of abuse in his three-year tenure at Charles Lea. New procedures have been put in place to ensure this kind of incident doesn’t happen again.
In 2009, the nonprofit group Protection and Advocacy for Peoples with Disabilities Inc. – a federally mandated advocacy group headquartered in Columbia – surveyed community residential care facilities (CRCFs) in South Carolina and issued a report that said:
“P&A has found that many CRCFs are filthy, do not provide adequate food and heat, do not safely administer medications or arrange for needed medical care, and do not provide protection from abuse, neglect and exploitation. Inspectors have found infestations of cockroaches in facilities, blood on the walls, and food which is out of date and rotting.
“Some residents routinely lack prescribed medications or are given the wrong amounts of medications, and some residents have been physically harmed by staff or other residents due to lack of supervision. These CRCFs are no place to call home.”
Park Mole said most of the community residential care facilities cited in the P&A report are not DDSN-monitored facilities and the agency has taken steps to improve care at CRFCs since the report was issued. DHEC now handles all inspections of DDSN facilities around the state.
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