9 Investigates: Families accuse local nursing facilities of abuse

by: Kathryn Burcham Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Local families are speaking out about what they call neglect, abuse and poor conditions inside some nursing homes operating as Brian Centers across North Carolina.

“If I had to do it over, I would not put my mom in the Brian Center,” said Kimberly Wyatt.

Wyatt said she still hasn’t forgiven herself for the three years her 65-year-old mother spent at the Brian Center of Hendersonville.

“When you have someone that’s had a stroke and just lying in the bed, there’s certain things that you have to take care of, pertaining to the skin, the nails…and those things were just not being done,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt said her mother, Jo Ann Howard, went to the Brian Center in Hendersonville in April 2010, unable to properly feed or care for herself after the stroke.

Wyatt said Howard was dependent on the staff, but when Howard did need help – Wyatt said the call button in her room was sometimes out of reach, which she said she documented with pictures.

“I know that I have actually watched the nursing director walk out of the room, and me walk into (my mother's) room, and the call button would be lying on the floor,” Wyatt told Channel 9.

Wyatt also wondered if the call button was on the floor of her mother’s room the night Howard died in September 2013. Wyatt told Eyewitness News that no staff was with Howard that night that she was aware of.

During two separate visits last year by the Department of Health & Human Services, inspectors documented staff failures to properly care for hygiene and continence needs of patients at the Hendersonville Brian Center, as well as failure to follow physician’s orders.

A Channel 9 review of hundreds of federal Medicare records revealed reports of similar quality-of-care deficiencies at the more than two dozen Brian Centers across North Carolina.

One former Brian Center employee, who worked at the facility on Shamrock Drive in Charlotte, told Eyewitness News the lack of resident care led her to resign.

“It bothered me because that could be one of my loved ones, ya know? So I knew it wasn’t right,” she said.

The certified nurse assistant, or CNA, asked Channel 9 to hide her identity for fear of reprisal at her current job, but said she wants to speak out to protect the residents she said she deeply cared for.

“The conditions…it wasn’t good at all,” the CNA said.

Medicare ratings show the Brian Center on Shamrock Drive has below-average levels for CNA staffing compared to both the state and national averages.

The facility is currently rated only one of five possible stars, and Hillary Kaylor with the Area Agency on Aging said high turnover and low staff levels are a consistent problem with the Brian Center facilities in Mecklenburg County.

“It’s always a big complaint – there never seems to be enough staff,” Kaylor said.

Kaylor works as a mediator between concerned families of residents and the nursing homes themselves.

“We do a lot of staff training trying to be person-centered, trying to adhere to care plans, and things that can happen at facilities,” Kaylor said.

Channel 9 asked the Brian Center about its staffing levels, and a spokeswoman told us workers try to keep their staffing levels at a minimum number required by North Carolina and strive to provide quality care for their residents.

The Brian Centers are owned by a parent company, Sava Senior Care.

Headquartered in Atlanta, Sava owns 32 nursing homes and rehab centers in North Carolina, and hundreds of others across the United States.

Sava has been the target of civil litigation in North Carolina and other states, with juries awarding families hundreds of thousands of dollars in verdicts against the company.

Sava is currently a defendant in a lawsuit brought by the wife of a former resident at the Brian Center of Monroe.

According to the lawsuit, 76-year-old Stanley Bergman went there in August 2009 for rehab after back surgery.

The lawsuit claimed that within a month, Bergman developed a large bedsore that went untreated, and it resulted in his death.

A spokeswoman for the Brian Center declined to comment on the Bergman lawsuit, and because of privacy laws, was not able to comment on any of the other Brian Center residents Channel 9 asked about, including Kimberly Wyatt’s mother, Jo Ann Howard.
Wyatt said she still struggles with the loss of her mother every day, and told Eyewitness News,

“When you put someone in a nursing home, you’re thinking that they’re going to be taken care of, that their basic needs are going to be met. And a lot of times, they’re not.”

The complete statement from the Brian Center spokeswoman said, “Given the  State and Federal privacy laws, we are unable to comment on the care and services provided to specific residents. The affiliated Brian Center facilities across the State of North Carolina strive on a daily basis to provide quality care and quality of life to those residents they have the privilege to serve.   To that end, the staff at the Brian Centers facilities continue to utilize the quality assurance performance improvement processes to identify areas of opportunity and implement plans to address areas identified.

"With respect to staffing levels, there are no Federal staffing requirements and we manage staff in order to maintain North Carolina specific staffing minimums. Our management teams continue to monitor staffing levels on a daily basis and make adjustments, as necessary.

"We appreciate the support of our families, staff and the local communities and look forward to continuing to serve those who have chosen us as their care provider.”