The District Attorney General of Sullivan County, Barry Staubus, says the failure of the Tennessee Department of Health to notify his office of alleged incidents of abuse has compromised any criminal investigation by the DA’s office.
In a statement, Staubus said his office only learned of the horrific incidents of abuse and neglect that allegedly took place at Brookhaven Manor in Kingston after he was notified by the media.
The Tennessee Health Commissioner released a scathing 77-page report detailing the incidents of abuse and neglect that led to the suspension of new resident admissions at Brookhaven.
Among the violations listed, the commissioner accused the nursing home of failing to notify the proper agencies regarding the allegations of abuse.
The district attorney questioned why the Department of Health would take administrative actions against the facility, yet fail to notify his office that an investigation was even taking place.
Allegations of Abuse and Neglect
According to the Department of Health’s report, the nursing home failed to take the proper steps to ensure their residents were not abused. The report detailed incidents of mental, physical, and emotional abuse of at least nine of the residents at the home.
The department’s investigation revealed that nursing home staff failed to treat bed sores and surgical wounds properly. Residents were also left for hours sitting or lying unchanged and soiled.
In all, the report found violations of residents’ rights, physician services, nursing services, infection control, performance improvement, and administration. Even before the report, the nursing home’s overall Medicare rating was one out of five stars, the lowest rating a facility can receive.
Failure to Report
When the Department of Health was questioned why a report of abuse was never made to law enforcement, a spokesperson said that the department overseeing the investigation, Health Licensure, was told by another government agency that they had notified “Sullivan County law enforcement.”
However, the spokesperson also said that they could not say which other agency made that claim pursuant to Tennessee confidentially laws (TCA 63-1-117).
The issue with that statement is that no other state law enforcement agency says they were notified of the multiple incidents of abuse at Brookhaven Manor according to statements from the Kingsport Police Department, Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations.
A spokesperson for the Kingston Police Department pointed out that, in the past, they have received reports of alleged abuse from the Department of Human Services (DHS), but they did not receive any reports regarding Brookhaven.
Inquiries were made to Adult Protective Services but a spokesperson there also cited the Tennessee confidentially laws. However, the DA told the media that he checked with that agency and they also confirmed they had never received any abuse reports.
Although criminal prosecution may be difficult – if not impossible – due to the lack of notification by the Department of Health, the district attorney expressed his hope that going forward, all agencies will continue to work together to ensure public safety.
Attorney Jim Higgins commented, “This incident highlights the need for various state agencies to improve coordination and communication in order to safeguard the health, well-being, and safety of some of our most vulnerable citizens.”