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Alzheimer’s center employees face charges of cruel treatment of patients

21 staff members face up to 72 charges

POSTED: July 3, 2013 1:02 a.m.
LEANNE AKIN/Times regional staff

A three-month investigation culminated with execution of a search warrant at Alzheimer's Care of Commerce where the GBI crime scene vehicle, Jackson County Emergency Services and law enforcement including Commerce Police converged on Tuesday. Three of the 27 residents were hospitalized after being evaluated by state medical personnel. Twenty-one persons will be facing 72 charges including cruelty to a person 65 years of age or older and abuse, neglect, financial exploitation and failure to re...

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More than 20 former employees of a center for people with Alzheimer’s disease face dozens of criminal charges after state investigators uncovered allegations of cruel treatment of patients.

The charges stem from a three-month investigation of Alzheimer’s Care of Commerce, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said. GBI officials said the investigation uncovered accounts of physical abuse, such as staff members striking and throwing water on patients.

Three of the 27 patients were transported to a hospital for treatment Tuesday as a search warrant was being executed at the Bolton Drive center. Thirty-five law enforcement officers were at the facility with 35 staffers of social services agencies, plus volunteers. Medical professionals were conducting patient evaluations, which prompted the hospitalization of the three patients.

At a press conference, GBI Director Vernon Keenan said 72 warrants were issued for 21 current and former employees, including owner Donna Wright, on charges including cruelty to a person 65 years of age or older and abuse, neglect, financial exploitation and failure to report under the Protection of Disabled Adults and Elderly Persons statute.

As of 7 p.m., 15 of the 21 had been booked into the jail, with 10 to appear before Magistrate Judge Billy Chandler this morning for a bond hearing.

GBI Special Agent Mike Ayers of the Athens office said the assessment process was only halfway through.

Several family members at the press conference expressed shock at the allegations of abuse.

Clyde Ivester said his mother is at the facility and his wife’s parents, now deceased, were also well cared for there. He said one of the employees led away in handcuffs had lovingly held the hand of his mother-in-law as she passed away.

“We did a lot of research and had all the confidence in them or we would not have put our loved ones there,” Gwen Ivester said. “We had no complaints.”

Commerce Police Chief John W. Gaissert said his department began receiving multiple complaints of elder abuse at the facility March 28, and department investigators began vetting the information.

Detectives “concluded that cause existed to open a criminal investigation.”

“After assessing agency resources and other factors, I made a decision to request assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and asked them to assume jurisdiction in this case,” Gaissert said.

Commerce Police Lt. Ken Harmon said only standard medical calls had brought law enforcement to the facility until the first complaint came in.

“We had to make sure we didn’t just have a disgruntled former employee,” he added, noting corroboration came from talking with others who worked or had worked at the facility.

The GBI began the investigation April 2. Information was obtained indicating patients were restrained with bedsheets and subjected to inhumane and undignified conditions including “double diapering,” where multiple diapers were placed on patients to keep the staff from changing soiled diapers as often.

There were accounts of physical abuse, such as staff members slapping patients and throwing water on them. Overmedication was also alleged.

“During the investigation, the GBI learned patients were also being cared for by people with prior felony convictions ranging from voluntary manslaughter to drug charges to identify theft,” said a GBI press release. “It is against state regulations to have convicted felons working in a personal care facility.”

There were also unauthorized personnel administering medications to the patients and medications prescribed to the patients were found to be missing or unaccounted for during a May audit, noted the GBI probe.

Pat King, investigator and forensic nurse with the Georgia DHS Division of Aging Services, Forensic Special Investigation Unit, said when it was realized there would be virtually no staff available to manage the facility, nurses and other medical professionals were brought in to provide care. She said the groundwork was also laid to assist families in relocating their family members to other facilities.

LeAnne Akin of the Times regional staff and Associated Press reports contributed to this story.


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