I-TEAM: 8 years after reports of mold at Ft. Gordon homes, we find the problems may still exist

Tuesday, August 27, 2019
News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7

FORT GORDON, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- An I-Team investigation into military housing on Fort Gordon is -- once again -- shining the spotlight on concerns about mold.

We first sounded the alarm 8 years ago when a baby girl stopped breathing, but, as we have learned, the problem might not have stopped.

That’s not sitting well with one military mom.

Michaela Hall had to rush her 2-year-old to the ER. After that, she rushed her family off-post.

Hall’s story is similar to the story of Kourtney Shelton, another Army wife whose child suffered from air trouble in her Fort Gordon home back in 2011.

Evelyn Shelton stopped breathing in the incident. Kourtney believed she’d been breathing toxic air thanks to fuzz in the A/C vent and dirty air ducts.

The Shelton family moved off post. Eight years later, the Hall family moved in. Michaela’s husband was in Afghanistan, so it was just her and their two kids in Olive Terrace.

"Coming from Germany, I couldn't risk my kids being on the streets,” Michaela said. “Household goods was coming, so I had to take the house."

Michaela said the home didn't look as good as it did online. Plus, there was another problem.

"Try to use moth balls to kill the smell. That did not even change the smell of the home. Bought candles. Everything. Nothing changes,” Michaela said.

She started to notice a change, though, in her family's health, especially with her son, Tavorace. She wondered if what was causing the smell could also be the cause of his breathing issues.

"'Oh ma'am. We'll send somebody out and get it checked. You know, check the mold or, you know, see what the problem is. We'll probably clean your air ducts and your air conditioning,'” Micheala said of the call she says she made to maintenance workers. “Nothing resolved."

On March 14, she took Tavorace to the ER. His diagnosis was acute croup. According to the Mayo Clinic, it's "an infection of the upper airway, which obstructs breathing and causes a characteristic barking cough."

On March 17, Tavorace and Michaela were back in the ER again for a viral upper respiratory infection. None of his paperwork mentions a possible cause -- just like doctors weren't able to pinpoint the cause of baby Evelyn's breathing problems.

Neither mom wanted to take a chance. The Shelton family left, and so did the Hall family.

"So, we paid an extra amount of money to move off-post and paid the fees to move off-post,” Michaela said. “Double fees to get out of there."

Another viewer shared photos of what he says is his family's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, or H-VAC. The photos show things you probably wouldn't want your family breathing in.

When they discovered the problem, the family cleaned as much of it as they could. They then specifically requested the entire system be cleaned out.

A former maintenance worker tells us, unfortunately, a lot of homes look like that. A former Balfour Beatty employee, who wanted to remain anonymous, confirms. We’ll call her Dorothy.

"I would not -- personally -- move on Fort Gordon. I would not solicit no one to live on Fort Gordon,” Dorothy said.

Dorothy says she remembers Michaela complaining about the smell.

"She notified Balfour Beatty, and they did absolutely nothing about it,” Dorothy said. “She had made several phone calls. Didn't respond."

When Michaela moved out, Dorothy says she came to the home to check it out herself.

"I was disgusted,” Dorothy said. “I could smell that she covered the home with moth balls just to cover up the odor...just to help absorb some of that odor that was going on in there."

Michela says her family has been happier -- and healthier – off-post. Meanwhile, her husband in Afghanistan has peace of mind.

"He shouldn't have to worry about his kids going to the ER or being sick, not being able to survive in the home that ‘the business of the military,’ the government is providing,” Michaela said.

Just last week, we took you along on a driving tour of Balfour Beatty's eight neighborhoods on post with the Garrison Commander. We couldn't go inside because the Army can't go inside. Balfour Beatty is a private company, but Garrison Commander Col. Jim Clifford says he's aware of some serious problems the company had not been addressing.

“Any gas issues, electrical issues, black mold, any of those problems that affect life-health safety, we want to get after first,” Clifford said.

Specifically, Clifford told us about 73 moisture/mold complaints – which brings us back to the Shelton family 8 years ago.

“These are babies,” Kourtney Shelton told News 12 back in 2011. “And who’s gonna be their voice? Somebody has to.”

Kourtney hoped that by speaking out, she could prevent this from happening to another family, but here's another mother -- all these years later -- with a lot of the same concerns.

Back in 2011, Balfour Beatty told us they checked the Shelton's home and their report said, "Our readings did not indicate any problems typically associated with excessive moisture or mold growth."

We also reached out to Balfour Beatty on Fort Gordon about the Hall's home. We received a call from the corporate level from Maureen Omrod, SVP of Marketing and Communications for Balfour Beatty Investments. She said the following:

"I did circle back to our maintenance team at Fort Gordon, as well as our management team, and confirmed that this resident did not report any mold or moisture-related issues to our team. When our team responded to the service request this spring regarding slow air flow from the HVAC system, they specifically replaced a piston in the system which resolved the air flow issue. When performing this fix, the maintenance team also opted to have the duct work cleaned after noticing some dust on the vents. They noticed no unusual odor while performing this work, nor was any concern regarding odor indicated by the resident. We also feel it is important to note that this home had its annual preventive maintenance appointment in January of this year and during that time the HVAC system was fully inspected and filters were changed. Also, as part of the standard preventive maintenance visit, the home was inspected for any water intrusion or leaks, including a review of all plumbing fixtures.

Separately, we wanted to stress that when a resident does report a mold or moisture-related concern in the home, we follow a stringent response protocol to fully resolve the issue that includes oversight and guidance form our Environmental department. This protocol includes notifying the Army Housing office (RCI) about the report so that they can participate in all subsequent inspections and discussions with the resident.

I thought it also might be helpful to share some details on the new tools, programs and resources we have put in place at Fort Gordon Family Homes and our other military properties over the past several months. These enhancements are generally designed to create new levels of oversight and excellence related to maintenance projects and service requests, as well as greater transparency and communications with residents on all aspects of their living environment. Following are some of the enhancements implemented recently at Fort Gordon specifically:

• We have hired a dedicated Quality Control Specialist who is responsible for ensuring the highest standards of service and workmanship have been delivered on all resident service requests, whether performed by our maintenance team or third-party contractors.
• We have also hired a Resident Engagement Specialist to drive improved resident communications and satisfaction. This specialist is helping to connect residents with all of the local resources and information they might need, assisting them with service-related questions and identifying opportunities to continuously improve the resident experience.
• To further bolster our local Fort Gordon resources, we have added an additional maintenance technician position.
• We have also further invested in technology that allows residents to submit, manage and track their service requests and work orders online or through a mobile app. We have also implemented a new policy that gives residents final approval on closing work orders to ensure tasks are completed to their satisfaction.
• To continually increase the focus of its employees on delivering world-class service, we have instituted a more rigorous and comprehensive customer service training program across all levels of the organization. This new training has been delivered to all maintenance, leasing and community management personnel.
In addition, since we took on all family housing at Fort Gordon, we have built more than 300 new homes there, performed extensive interior renovations on more than 750 homes, installed new exterior siding on more than 540 homes and added three large playgrounds with shade covers. This work is in addition to ongoing repair and replacement work required in the homes, to include roofs, road improvements and much more."

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