WRAL Investigation Turns Up Pattern Of Problems At 3 Durham Assisted Living Homes
Posted August 2, 2002 9:52 a.m. EDT
DURHAM, N.C. — If you ever place a loved one in an adult care home, you trust the facility will meet your relative's special needs.
State and county investigators believe three taxpayer-subsidized homes in Durham have violated that trust.
Burlington businessman Faiger Blackwell owns all three of the homes. The public spotlight has focused on one of his facilities after a resident turned up dead. But, social services records show the problems go much deeper.
His family called him Junior. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Ervin Evans kept to himself, feeling uncomfortable around most everyone.
On June 13, the 45-year-old was found dead along a road four miles from his home at Durham Village Assisted Living.
Investigators believe he died from heat stroke.
"She said 'They found your brother dead in a ditch.' And I said 'Oh, no.' And I just cried until I just couldn't take it," said Marilyn Fields, Junior's sister.
Junior's family now wants to know why his caretakers at Durham Village did not prevent it.
"This is not fair. It's not right. He is a human being, too," said Sharon Evans, Junior's sister-in-law.
The family hired attorney Michael Jones to help them.
"This is clearly a case of gross negligence," Jones said.
Investigators said Durham Village dropped Junior off for an appointment, then forgot to pick him up and never realized he was missing. He wandered in the heat apparently trying to get back home; 24 hours later, police called the home to say he was dead.
"That's uncalled for, shouldn't have happened. I can't imagine that happening to anybody," said Carlton Evans, Junior's brother.
It turns out this is not the first time Durham Village has has transportation problems.
The executive director of Threshold Rehabilitation in Durham said over a three-year period, Durham Village failed to pick up residents more than 20 different times. Each time a staffer had to stay after closing until someone showed up.
Durham Village is owned by Faiger Blackwell, a businessman who also operates two other adult care homes in Durham: Hanson Hills and Durham Manor.
"I'm certainly troubled by his operation," said Dan Hudgins, Durham Social Services director.
Hudgins said Blackwell's homes show an alarming pattern of problems.
The state fined Durham Manor $3,000 for putting a resident in a cab unescorted. That woman never made it to her doctor's appointment for post-surgical bleeding and eventually required emergency treatment.
Police are also investigating how another resident, 82-year-old Lucille Evans, turned up with a broken finger and extensive bruising at Durham Village.
"They just need to close it. If they can't come up with answers, they can't take care of the residents, they need to close those doors," said Jane Evans, Lucille's Evans' daughter.
State and county records show all three facilities have consistently failed to give residents proper food and medication.
"We've never had three facilities in Durham at the same time with as serious of problems as these three facilities currently have," Hudgins said.
Adding to the problems, workers at the homes say their paychecks recently bounced, and until early July, Blackwell was seven months late in paying property taxes on the facilities.
"We think that the state should be stepping in at this point in requiring additional verification of his financial ability to contineu to operate these facilites here," Hudgins said.
After trying for more than a month to reach Blackwell by phone, WRAL set out to find him. We struck out at one of his Burlington businesses and home.
Then we found his Jaguar at his multi-million dollar movie studio, Carolina Pinnacle, in Yanceyville. We were met by an employee in the parking lot.
"Mr. Blackwell is not in."
"He's not in? I was told he would be here at this time and his car's parked out front."
"Well, you know, Mr. Blackwell has several cars and then he rides with people, and he's probably one of the most difficult individuals to keep up with."
"I'm finding that out."
The man then ordered WRAL off the property.
"I just want to get it straight one more time that you're being absolutely truthful with me by saying Mr. Blackwell is not here."
"Sir, this is what I'm being. I'm being absolutely direct with you. You need to go ahead."
Junior's family believes Blackwell has shown no compassion in their loved one's death. Now, they are planning legal action, they say, to protect other families.
"Nobody should have to go through what my brother went through. They need some drastic changes immediately," Carlton Evans said.
They said drastic means shutting down the facility.
Thursday evening, Faiger Blackwell faxed the following statement to WRAL:
"We certainly regret the unfortunate death of Ervin Evans. This is the first time anything of this magnitude has occurred at one of our homes. We are fully cooperating with officials as they conduct their investigation. Our hearts go out to the family during their time of loss."
As for the homes, they remain open. The state has suspended admissions at all three facilities during the ongoing investigation and officials have issued an order of intent to revoke the operating license at Hanson Hills.