Local News

Lack of state oversight put seniors at risk, audit says

Posted April 29, 2008 11:04 a.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2008 6:47 p.m. EDT

— The Department of Health and Human Services failed to provide adequate oversight of an adult-care facility, putting residents there at a high risk of injury or death, according to a state investigative report released Tuesday

The report found that the DHHS' Adult Care Licensure Section allowed the Cary facility, formerly called Parkway Retirement Home, to continue operating, despite nearly two dozen violations, a death and a suspension of patient admissions.

"There was a serious health or death allegation citation in May 2007, so it does get pretty serious," Chris Mears, a spokesman for the Office of the State Auditor said.

Two months later, Parkway was renamed to Phoenix Assisted Care, and ownership of the facility transferred, with the exception of one individual.

Mears said that is a violation of state law and a violation of patients' rights.

"These people aren't receiving the standard of care that we're morally and statutorily obligated to provide," he said. "That is the most disturbing thing here."

In a statement accompanying the report Tuesday, state Auditor Leslie Merritt said that by issuing a license, the state is establishing a standard for care in adult-care homes.

"Therefore, it has a moral and statutory obligation to ensure that the home’s care is living up to that standard,” he said.

Phoenix Assisted Care's executive director, Betty Stevens, said she was not aware of the audit, investigation or the seriousness of the violations while it was under the name Parkway.

In another case, the investigation also found the ACLS allowed an unlicensed home to operate for more than six months without taking the necessary steps to shut it down, even though the facility jeopardized the health and safety of the people living there.

The auditor's report said ACLS never notified residents or their families that the facility received a cease-operations letter that precluded the home from feeding and administering medications to the residents.

"You're dealing with real people with real needs, and there should be oversight to make sure those needs are met," Mears said.

In its response to the report, ACLS acknowledged the issues identified in the investigation and agreed to address their root causes.

“A license is only as good as the enforcement behind it,” Merritt said. “By agreeing to follow the recommendations in our report, ACLS is on the right track to setting the high standard of care on which older North Carolinians can depend.”

Mears said the auditor's office has forwarded its report to the Wake County district attorney and to the state attorney general to determine possible criminal violations.