DHEC says system working despite chronic problems at care facility
FOX Carolina Investigates asks state officials if their complaint investigation process is effective
INMAN, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - The problems at Oakridge Community Care sparked outrage back in February when the owner was arrested, revealing the conditions inside the assisted living home.
But since then, it’s become increasingly difficult to get a response from the officials meant to advocate for people in long term care.
In February, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson charged owner Darryl Mast with neglect, exploitation and breach of trust with fraudulent intent.
Officials then had to relocate the Oakridge residents, but discovered conditions inside were so bad residents had to leave almost all of their belongings behind.
At the time, we interviewed Jessica Winters, the regional long term care ombudsman for the Appalachian Council of Governments.
“We made several reports to the attorney general’s office and to DHEC about the things we’ve seen,” she told us in February this year.
But when we reached back out to the ACG to see if they think DHEC’s system needs to be improved, they declined the interview.
“We can only comment on the process of our agency and not of other agencies that we work with,” their email said.
In April, we were able to grab an interview with DHEC director Dr. Edward Simmer at a board meeting. We asked: What does it take to get a facility shut down?
“It really gets back to the imminent threat to the life or health of the people living there,” Simmer said in April. “So it really depends on the nature of the violation. A violation where maybe some training was not documented is a different thing to -- if the roof is collapsing or if residents are infested with bed bugs.”
But records show, there were bed bugs.
According to dozens of DHEC investigations, vermin had been an issue for years. Photos from inspections show bugs in furniture, on mattresses and complaints describe the bugs biting residents.
The issue was mentioned in nearly half of the complaints filed about Oakridge from 2014 to when they closed this year.
We asked for an interview with Simmer for this story, but were told we needed to speak with the department that oversees investigations instead and that would be conducted over email.
FOX Carolina Investigates asked: Looking at Oakridge as a case study, do you think the current complaint, investigation and follow up process is working?
A spokesperson told us yes.
Their response said closing a facility can be difficult on residents.
The email continued, saying in part:
Keep in mind Oakridge received one of those administrative orders on Jan. 19.
If the attorney general’s office hadn’t arrested owner Darryl Mast on Feb. 14, charging him with neglect, exploitation and intent to defraud, they might still be operating.
Our investigation isn’t over. We’ve received tips on other facilities with similar histories and have more requests in with DHEC for their records.
Copyright 2022 WHNS. All rights reserved.