90-count indictment in Ga. Alzheimer case

A Jackson County grand jury has returned a 90-count indictment alleging widespread abuse at an Athens-area Alzheimer’s care facility.

Among other things, staff members at Alzheimer’s Care of Commerce assaulted and illegally restrained patients, according to the indictment filed Monday in Jackson County Superior Court.

The facility’s owner and 17 employees are charged in the indictment.

Owner Donna Hanner Wright is accused in the indictment of illegally dispensing drugs to patients, including morphine, and failure to comply with licensing requirements by not reporting abuse and hiring convicted felons.

Authorities previously said that difficult patients at the facility had been drugged to make them more manageable.

One felon that Wright hired had been convicted of voluntary manslaughter and another of aggravated assault, according to the indictment. Another staffer had a felony drug conviction, and a fourth felon had been convicted of financial identification fraud.

The indictment includes nine counts of false imprisonment for staffers allegedly tying patients to chairs.

Four employees were charged in the indictment with simple battery for allegedly hitting, grabbing and pouring water on patients.

Six employees were charged with reckless conduct for “disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk” to patients by not providing oral care, according to the indictment.

Three counts of abuse of a disabled adult or elder person were charged against employees for striking, slapping and pouring water on patients.

Six employees were charged in the indictment with cruelty to a person 65 years of age or older for not providing dental care to patients, which “jeopardized” the patients’ well-being.

The indictment was returned more than a year after authorities raided the facility on July 2, 2013, three months into an investigation that began when a whistle blower made allegations of abuse to the Commerce Police Department.

The probe was subsequently headed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which continued to look for other alleged crimes, including possible homicides due to patients being over-medicated.

The GBI’s Medical Examiner’s Office inspected the records of three suspicious deaths at the Commerce facility, including that of a 71-year-old Athens man.

When grand jurors convened in Jackson County on Monday, they were not asked to consider any homicide charges.

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