Report: Albany nursing home fined $186K following unreported allegations of sexual abuse

Reports say resident with dementia was assaulting other patients with dementia
PruittHealth Palmyra in Albany.
PruittHealth Palmyra in Albany.(WALB)
Updated: May. 27, 2020 at 1:31 PM EDT
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WARNING: This story contains disturbing details of a sexual nature, but they are necessary to provide a full picture of what happened in this case.

ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - WALB discovered shocking allegations coming out of an Albany nursing home that has dealt with abuse allegations in the past.

A state health survey report showed that staff at PruittHealth Palmyra saw a man with dementia sexually abuse other nursing home residents with dementia last year.

The report, issued by the Georgia Healthcare Facility Regulation (HFR) division of the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH), said the nursing home failed to properly report what happened.

The report was filed in October 2019.

In it, the state health surveyors detail sexually abusive incidents committed by a male resident with dementia over a period of 10 days, from Sept. 10-20, 2019.

According to the report, PruittHealth Palmyra staff members saw the man inappropriately touch two female residents, who also have dementia, multiple times and masturbate in front of other residents in the common day room.

This all took place in the nursing home's Memory Support Unit (MSU), the report stated.

On Sept. 16, six days after a staff member observed the first incident, a doctor ordered for the man two medications used to treat hypersexual behavior.

The report said that on both Sept. 19 and 20, a staff member saw the man inappropriately touching one of the women again.

On Oct. 2, state health surveyors started looking into complaints about the facility.

PruittHealth Palmyra then reported the sexual abuse allegations about the male resident to the state HFR division on Oct. 4, 24 days after the first incident.

According to both state and federal law, the nursing home should have done that within just two hours of the first time a staff member saw him inappropriately touch another resident.

The health survey report stated that the facility’s director of health services told surveyors that they didn’t report the behavior because they felt it wasn’t intentionally abusing anyone because of the man’s dementia.

The nursing home's administrator at the time said he was under the impression staff members intervened before the man actually touched the other residents.

The state report noted that the facility was cited for seven different violations in this case, including failure to report and investigate abuse allegations and failure to put protective measures into place to protect the women victimized and other residents.

On the date that report was concluded, the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports that it fined PruittHealth Palmyra $186,564.

Read the full October 2019 report below:

PruittHealth declined an interview for this story but issued a statement:

It is truly unfortunate that this incident occurred in the Memory Support Unit (MSU) at PruittHealth-Palmyra. The safety, well-being and dignity of patients are top priorities for PruittHealth, and for that reason, we always invite families to discuss questions or concerns directly with us. In this instance, in an abundance of caution, patients involved were thoroughly assessed and did not show evidence of physical injury or trauma. Likewise, the families were given the opportunity to discuss the events and to express any concerns. At that time, the staff was thanked for their quick response and for keeping residents safe. Out of respect for all involved, we will only discuss additional details directly with the families. We thank them for their compassion and understanding in this emotionally complex and challenging situation.

PruittHealth Communications Department

A follow-up report from the state showed that PruittHealth Palmyra educated staff members and residents about abuse in October and planned to make it part of employee orientation.

That report said the facility had corrected its violations by December 12, 2019.

Read the full follow-up report below:

It is not clear whether the staff members involved still work at the facility.

According to inspection reports, the facility's administrator at the time of the allegations is no longer the administrator.

The circumstances around that change are unclear.

“My overall reaction: I was stunned. It’s a very disturbing report,” said Brian Lee, Families for Better Care executive director, which is a national watchdog group that Lee said works to protect the rights of residents in nursing homes.

Lee reviewed the report about the allegations against the resident with dementia and against PruittHealth Palmyra staff.

“If this was happening anywhere else, these would be criminal acts, would be sexual crimes,” he said. “So, they should be treated as such in a nursing home. It’s very disturbing and sad for the people who had to endure this, and it’s heartbreaking for the families who know that their loved ones suffered through this painful abuse.”

Melanie McNeil is Georgia’s long-term care ombudsman.

Her state program advocates for residents in nursing homes across the state.

McNeil said she believed it was especially concerning that, according to the report, this abuse happened to some of the most vulnerable residents.

Melanie McNeil, Georgia's long-term care ombudsman.
Melanie McNeil, Georgia's long-term care ombudsman.(WALB)
Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care.
Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care.(WALB)

“So troubling to read about a situation that wasn’t reported,” McNeil said. “Intervention didn’t happen, and people continued to be at risk.”

McNeil said she believes it's likely that if someone committing these acts isn't stopped, it will happen again.

"It just seems to me it's human nature," she said. "If you do something, and, well, nothing happens to you, you'll probably do it again, because nothing happens."

Lee said he believes the failure to report led to more abuse of residents.

McNeil said she believes situations like this raise other questions about what goes on in these types of facilities.

"This was one instance. Had they had others with other residents? If you don't have enough supervision, you don't know," she said.

Both said it is hard to know whether the $186,564 fine will keep this from happening again.

“When people are harmed, it’s hard to put a price tag on that, but they do need to, you know, be sure that the next time, (they are) making sure that facility is doing what they’re supposed to do, intervening,” McNeil said.

Said Lee: “We’re talking about the lives and the safety of our loved ones that are living in these places. We have trusted them to be cared for and to be safe within these homes.”

The Georgia Health Care Association (GHCA) represents and lobbies for long-term care providers in Georgia.

While GHCA would not comment about this specific case, Devon Barill, GHCA’s director of communications, issued a statement about the issue of abuse in nursing homes:

The safety and wellbeing of all those residing in a long term health care setting is our highest priority. While it would be inappropriate for the Association to comment or speculate on the precise nature of a specific allegation, any instance of abuse is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Skilled nursing and assisted living centers comply with numerous regulations, along with state and federal laws, that protect their residents. GHCA works continuously with the GBI and our state partners and provides well-attended education for providers, law enforcement, and others related to abuse prevention, signs and symptoms of abuse, and abuse reporting.

Devon Barrill, GHCA director of communications

WALB asked Barill what families of nursing home residents can do to protect their loved one’s well-being.

“I think it is important to note that incidences of abuse are very rare in nursing centers and other long-term health care settings,” Barrill said. “Centers across the State are providing high-quality care and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of their residents. In fact, an independent national survey of over 17,000 Georgia nursing center residents and family members indicated that over 90 percent of respondents feel a high level of safety within their center.”

Barrill went on to say that if someone has concerns about abuse possibly going unreported, they should file a complaint with the Department of Community Health Healthcare Facility Regulation Division.

The Healthcare Facility Regulation division, which conducted the investigation into the case, is part of the Georgia Department of Community Health.

DCH also declined an interview in regards to this case.

However, DCH sent a statement:

The mission of the Department of Community Health’s (DCH) Healthcare Facility Regulation (HFR) Division is always to help protect the residents of Georgia by supporting the delivery of safe, quality health care services through effective regulation and oversight activities. DCH provides a consumer-friendly, public online tool for families to learn more about facilities and review inspection reports. This tool makes searching and comparing health care facilities easier and more convenient, allowing consumers to make more informed decisions about health care options. We encourage families to use the tool when making decisions regarding the care of their family members.

Georgia Department of Community Health

DCH said more information can be found here and here.

PruittHealth Palmyra has been affected by allegations of abuse in the past.

In 2018, the Albany Police Department (APD) arrested Angela Robinson who had been working at PruittHealth Palmyra at the time.

APD said in September 2018 that she had a warrant for aggravated assault on a person 65 or older.

The APD incident report showed that the nursing home's administrator at the time called police to report that a cell phone video showed a caregiver slapping, shoving her knee into the stomach and choking an elderly dementia patient who soiled himself.

According to court records, Robinson is still awaiting trial in Dougherty County.

There is also a civil lawsuit against Robinson and PruittHealth Palmyra pending in Dougherty County court.

It was filed anonymously in September 2018.

On WALB NBC and ABC at 6 p.m., watch the full investigative story.

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