More poor, disabled and elderly residents than ever are at risk in South Carolina’s community residential care facilities, an investigation by a state independent watchdog group has found.
In a 60-page report issued Tuesday, the Columbia-based group Protection & Advocacy for People with Disabilities found that many of the 17,000 residents of the state’s 477 community care facilities are living in substandard facilities that in many cases receive inadequate oversight from state agencies entrusted with their care.
According to the report, the failings at many facilities include:
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control – the main state oversight agency for the facilities – is already responding to two recommendations in the report, DHEC director Catherine Templeton said Tuesday after the report’s release.
DHEC is taking steps to put inspection reports and corrective actions on the agency website so the public can quickly learn the latest information on each of the 477 care facilities, Templeton said. Currently, anyone wanting to learn the latest status of a care facility must file a time-consuming Freedom of Information request to see the paper inspection reports.
DHEC also will be hiring more inspectors to go into the care facilities, she said. Templeton didn’t know exactly how many would be hired, but it will be more than the current number of six or so, she indicated.
Shortly after assuming the DHEC directorship last year, Templeton said, she was surprised by the hesitation the DHEC inspections staff showed in shutting down a Charleston-area care facility whose operation was threatening the health of its residents.
Templeton ordered the staff to close the facility to protect the patients. Since then, she said, she has directed the staff to put the welfare of the facilities’ residents over the business interests of the providers.
Gloria Prevost, executive director of the Protection & Advocacy group, confirmed Templeton’s account and said there has been a sea change in DHEC culture pertaining to care facilities since Templeton took over.
“The emphasis used to be on protecting the business interests of the provider,” Prevost said. “Now, their emphasis is on making things better for the people who live there.”
People who live at residential care facilities are more vulnerable than people who live at nursing homes, which have a sharply higher level of state and federal oversight and stiffer requirements for qualified staff. At nursing homes, for example, trained nurses dispense medications, while at residential care facilities, untrained people can give out medications.
Many residents pay for their stays in the care facilities with state and federal assistance, but that money doesn’t buy much, the report said.
“Far too often these funds provide grossly inadequate care with little oversight,” the report says.
The Protection & Advocacy group, whose $1.7 million yearly budget is mostly federally funded, has broad authority under state and federal law to independently investigate allegations of abuse and neglect at state care facilities.
Its last major investigative report was issued in 2009, several months after The State newspaper reported on major shortcomings in the homes’ oversight and needless deaths at some.
That 2009 report found numerous substandard conditions at many facilities.
“Almost four years later, the same unsafe and deplorable conditions still exist,” the report said.