After learning about Gregory Lauderdale’s slow death that began with an infected bedsore, District Attorney Natalie Paine ’s obsession with personal care home patients kicked into full gear.
The result is a new, specialized unit, CAVE – Crimes Against the Vulnerable and Elderly. William Loomer, an investigator in the district attorney’s office, is spearheading the unit.
Members include a prosecutor, DA investigator, and a member from the sheriff and marshal offices, the coroner and the fire department. CAVE will work closely with code enforcement and Department of Community Health employees who inspect personal care homes for violations of state regulations and local ordinances, Loomer said.
An Augusta Chronicle investigation of Richmond County personal care homes in April revealed that potential life-threatening conditions were found in about a third of the homes in the past three years. One of those was Open Arms on Central Avenue where Lauderdale was a resident. After 14 months there, the Army veteran had a bedsore that became so infected the infection seeped into his bones, eating flesh and muscle, and leaving his tailbone exposed. He was 60 when he died Jan. 31, 2013.
When she learned of Lauderdale’s condition, Paine, who was an assistant DA at the time, urged the sheriff’s office to investigate. Nothing yet has come from that investigation, however.
Now, Paine, Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen and Augusta Fire Chief Chris James have pledged to go to the scene of every personal care home death, Loomer said.
In the past two months, CAVE members have been sent to three personal care homes, one of which was closed. The Dynasty Care Facility was closed and cited for code violations July 25 after 59-year-old Edward E. Dath was found dead. His death is considered suspicious, pending autopsy results.
The unit’s investigations have led to three arrests so far, such as Maxine Donaldson who is accused of taking thousands of dollars from a patient in her care. Three more people are under investigation.
Loomer has already taken some training with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and next month, several members of the unit will go for training in investigating crimes against the elderly and disabled, Loomer said.
Heather Strickland, assistant special agent in charge of the GBI’s at-risk adult investigations, said this specialized unit was established in 2015. A specially trained agent is in each of the agency’s 15 regional offices to assist in learning about at-risk adult investigations and to assist in such investigations. The GBI is hosting a training session in November focusing on cases with victims who have dementia and Alzheimer’s, Strickland said.
There is a bill pending in the General Assembly about establishing a special task force to investigate cases of possible neglect and abuse of at-risk adults in every judicial circuit, she said.
Loomer said Atlanta law enforcement is looking at Augusta’s CAVE team as a possible role model for creating its own unit. Although the CAVE team is working to be proactive, members also want to hear from anyone who suspects an at-risk adult may be a victim of abuse or neglect.
To report a suspicious case, email the unit. But if the situation is an emergency, call 911, Loomer said.
The unit also plans to do unscheduled inspections of personal care homes, including night visits, Loomer said. Members have heard a number of complaints that certain homes had no one on staff at night, he said.
By working with the Department of Community Health surveyer, the team can be called immediately if the inspection reveals any condition that could endanger a resident. “We can deal with it as soon as possible this way,” Loomer said.
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