Local News

Some Rest Homes Are Not Paying Fines For Violations

Posted June 3, 2003 5:37 a.m. EDT

— For years, WRAL has reported on several Triangle-area rest homes fined for health and safety violations, but those fines are rarely paid in full.

State investigators fined Durham Village $10,000 after resident Junior Evans died from heat stroke in a ditch last June. In August, they closed Hanson Hills and moved out 40 residents because of serious health and safety issues. The home now faces more than $30,000 in fines.

To date, Burlington businessman Faiger Blackwell has not paid a dime for the violations. He appealed the fine and if past precedent is any indication, he could end up paying much less than he was fined.

Division of Facility Services Chief Jim Upchurch said most fines get reduced by 10 percent to 20 percent or more by attorneys behind closed doors. He said settlements ultimately save the state time and money by avoiding appeals hearings. In addition to lesser fines, homes often work out deals where they admit no wrongdoing.

"They want to reduce their liability as much as possible," he said.

The settlement scenario frustrates Dan Hudgins, director of social services in Durham.

"I think there needs to be a higher level of accountability as represented through the fines," he said.

Hudgins said that typically neither his investigators nor residents' families get a final say. Hudgins believes for the sake of people like Junior Evans' family, fines should be paid in full and in a timely manner, not watered down in settlements.

"I think it sends the message that we're more interested in protecting the rights of the owner than we are in protecting the rights of residents," he said.

Investigators said it is often tough to collect fines when adult care homeowners transfer licenses to other people. Blackwell has transferred licenses for two of his Durham rest homes to his nephew.