I-TEAM: Inspection of Augusta care home uncovers years of violations

Published: Oct. 19, 2020 at 6:20 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Local investigators have been pleading with the state to step in, months before the sickening of four patients, and two deaths at First Love Personal Care Home.

Our I-Team found a long history of serious violations spanning back years. So why hasn’t the state shut this chain of personal care homes? We found weak enforcement magnified by the pandemic is putting our most vulnerable at risk.

Investigators told our I-Team there were no carbon monoxide detectors in the home.

We went through dozens of state inspection and complaint reports for all three First Love Personal Care Homes in Augusta. We found dozens of violations, with many involving the safety of the facilities. We also found untrained and uncertified staff working in the facilities.

“I work at a nursing care home and I think one of my patients is not living.”

On Monday, we obtained heartbreaking calls to 911 for help from inside the First Love Personal Care Home:

Woman: “She’s not responding to me at all.”

Dispatcher “I -- I understand. Let’s put -- go ahead and put your hand on her chest and see if you can, um, feel any breathing going on.”

Woman: “Yes, sir.”

Dispatcher: “Richmond County, go ahead and send fire for me.”

Woman: “Nope, baby, I don’t. I don’t.”

Dispatcher: “Alright. Well, let’s do CPR on her, okay?”

Woman: " I -- uh -- I don’t know CPR. I (inaudible)."

We were on the scene Sunday and talked with the owner. She did not want to talk on camera, but she did tell us she learned of the tragedy unfolding inside when an employee called her.

The I-Team found the owner was cited this January for employing an uncertified worker at the Wrightsboro Road location. The worker had admitted to not completing CPR recertification.

Dispatcher: “Well, don’t worry about hurting her. If she’s not breathing, she’s already hurting. Grab her by the ankles and pull her to the floor.”

Woman: “Yes, sir.”

Dispatcher: “Okay? You can do this.”

Woman: “Okay (sobbing heavily).”

Dispatcher: “It’s okay. It’s alright now. We’re going to do this together.”

Woman: “(crying) Yes, sir.”

The I-Team found the Love Personal Care Homes are well known to investigators. There are three locations across Augusta, with dozens of violations at all three properties over the last three years.

These violations included not training workers, expired fire extinguishers, sprinklers out of compliance, plumbing problems, and multiple bed bug outbreaks. They get even worse.

“We had complaints from various people that had either loved ones or had been in the home themselves," District Attorney Natalie Paine said.

Paine says she alerted the state back in May after a bank threw up a red flag concerning possible financial fraud.

Today, we obtained the email the DA’s office sent to the Department of Community Health.

“SunTrust flagged owners for possible fraud money laundering,” the email stated.

That same month, law enforcement sent out wanted fliers to News 12, asking for help to find two sisters, Kiana and Lakisha Harrison who both worked for First Love.

In the DA’s email sent, it stated “both Harrison sisters have multiple felony warrants and have been allowed to stay in the care homes. I am trying to wait until COVID dies down, but we can’t wait forever.”

The state responded, “We can do an off-site inspection.”

We now know in July, the state cited the owner for employing a worker with felony fraud, forgery, and drug charges. They also found two other employees who had multiple felony warrants.

“In this particular situation, it takes a lot for a facility to be closed down. You have to have some pretty blatant violations,” Paine said.

In all, we found 15 reports of violations over three years were not enough for the state to close down this chain of personal care homes.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is also preventing investigators and family members from visiting, making it even harder to know what’s going on behind closed doors.

A spokesperson with the Department of Community Health said they have suspended all annual inspections during the pandemic. The agency tells us they are investigating abuse and neglect complaints, but it is unclear whether all of those investigations are in-person or virtual.

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