Other than routine local fire and sanitary inspections, the state only inspects mental health facilities when there is a problem. There was a problem at the Tammy Lynn Center for Developmental Disabilities July 2, and no inspection can save the life of David Lee Hamrick, who died Sunday after being scalded by bath water earlier this month.
Hamrick, 23, spent most of his life at a facility run by the center.
"This death occurred following an accident at the center's Supervised Living site on July 2 when he was badly burned while bathing," said Mary Freeman, president of the Tammy Lynn Center. "He was taken immediately to the burn center at UNC, where he'd undergone treatment since the time of the incident."
For 30 years, the center has had an impeccable record, until now. The accident happened in an apartment the center rents. The state inspected the Melrose apartment before it was first licensed in 1997, but not since then.
"Currently, we're only able to do initial inspections," says Ellen Walls with theDivision of Facility Services. "We review renewal materials for renewal licenses. We're not able to go on site for routine surveying."
The state only has four consultants to inspect 3,008 facilities across North Carolina, but that will soon change. TheGeneral Assemblyhas approved funding for 15 additional positions so renewal inspections can take place every two years.
"We're hoping we'll be able to get a very good handle on compliance status that we haven't been able to up until now," Walls said.
But the change comes too late for Hamrick, whose death is being investigated as a possible criminal case.
"Yes, it certainly appears to be at least some neglect," says Lt. T.W. Gardner with theRaleigh Police Department.
Police say the center has fired the caregiver in charge of Hamrick that day. Freeman vows a thorough investigation saying patient safety is her top concern.
"It's extremely important -- that's what we do here," she said. "We provide the best of care."
The state's guidelines for mental health facilities are very broad. The state only requires facilities to keep hot water at a temperature that ensures patient safety.
Generally, the state considers anything above 120 degrees to be unsafe. No one knows exactly how hot the water was in Hamrick's case.
The center serves about 350 families a year. Freeman says this has never happened at the center.
"All of us in the Tammy Lynn family are deeply saddened at this tragic event," she said. "We have remained in close contact with the family throughout this time, and they are the most concerned for us at this time."
Raleigh police are investigating the death. One state agency is looking into any rules or rights violations, and the other agency is investigating one of the center's employees. The Hamrick family had no comment Tuesday night. Photographer: Joe Anthony
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