Originally created 07/20/02

State threatens facility's funds



For the second time in less than a month, Gracewood State School and Hospital is threatened with having its funding cut off unless it corrects conditions that put residents in "immediate jeopardy."

According to documents obtained Friday by The Augusta Chronicle, the state Office of Regulatory Services sent letters Tuesday and Wednesday citing poor care at the facility for the developmentally disabled; included were reports that a resident was beaten with a pipe and that another resident who was left unsupervised jumped out of a window.

A Gracewood employee may be prosecuted for patient abuse as a result of the first incident, said Mike Seigler, the special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Thomson office.

Some of the problems had been noted in a survey in May but were still not corrected when surveyors returned last week.

Unless conditions improve by July 31, the state could move to cut off the facility's Medicaid funding.

The state survey and findings of immediate jeopardy to residents came on the same day the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services removed its threat to cut off federal funding. A federal survey in June also had found immediate jeopardy to residents, including a patient with a broken wrist and staff members ill-trained to handle unruly patients.

Gracewood was threatened with losing that funding July 13 but the facility provided a plan of correction, including staff training in appropriate restraints, that satisfied federal officials.

This time, the facility is being criticized for having too small a staff to properly supervise patients and too few meaningful programs for the residents. Surveyors also were concerned about problems in Living Area 12X that "appeared to be widespread physical and psychological abuse rather than an isolated incident of abuse resulting in immediate jeopardy to the safety and welfare of (the residents)."

On March 26, a staff worker preparing to give a 32-year-old resident her bath noticed red welts on the woman's buttocks and thighs. The facility's client advocate later found a 19-inch aluminum pipe tucked under some other materials in a locked cabinet in the living area. The pipe matched the marks on the woman's body, and the client advocate said the woman was frightened when she saw it later.

Similar pipes, all taken from privacy screens, were found scattered in different places around the living area. The GBI was called in to investigate, and a day-shift supervisor later resigned and refused to take a polygraph test.

"If I'm not mistaken, we're ready to turn it over to the DA for possible prosecution," Special Agent Seigler said.

In another incident, a patient who had leaped out of a window in December and had a history of running off and causing mayhem was left unsupervised after dinner June 25. The patient, who was supposed to be under direct supervision all of the time because of his behavior, either jumped or fell out of a window and ended up in the hospital with a "cervical spinal cord injury," according to the report.

The Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Diseases has received the report, and Gracewood officials are working on eliminating the problems and forming a plan of correction, said Debra Elovich, the assistant commissioner for policy and government services at the Georgia Department of Human Resources.

"They do have every confidence they'll be able to make the corrections and provide (the plan) within that time frame," Ms. Elovich said.

Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT: If Gracewood State School and Hospital doesn't submit a plan and correct problems by July 31, the state can move to sever Medicaid funding.