State failed to notify DA about possible nursing home abuse in Tri-Cities

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – After the Tennessee Department of Health criticized a Kingsport nursing home for failing to report allegations of abuse, Sullivan County’s district attorney criticized that state agency for doing the same thing.

District Attorney General Barry Staubus says he only found out about the allegations of abuse and neglect at Brookhaven Manor from the media and he says the delay in notification has compromised his office’s criminal investigation.

“I wasn’t aware of it until after the fact,” he said. “It makes it hard to go in and conduct an interview for criminal purposes, because it’s already been disclosed that there’s been state action. I think it just compromises a criminal investigation.”

State records show the nursing home didn’t do enough to protect nine people from abuse and failed to remove the accused, properly report allegations to administration and investigate six of those cases. As a result, the state suspended new admissions to the nursing home last month.

“It seems to me that the better practice would be that before you take the administrative action against the nursing home and the individuals who worked in the nursing home, you would contact us,” Staubus said. “If it were my dad, my mom that were at the nursing home and there were allegations of abuse or neglect, I wouldn’t be satisfied that the nursing home was fined or somebody was fired.”

A Department of Health spokesperson told WJHL, although the department never contacted law enforcement, the office believes another government agency did.

“Health licensure advises me the Brookhaven matter was not referred to law enforcement by them; at the onset of their work on this case they were informed by another government agency it had notified Sullivan County law enforcement,” Director of Communication and Media Relations Woody McMillin said. “We cannot identify or provide additional information about that agency as complaints/requests for investigation in Tennessee are confidential, pursuant to TCA 63-1-117.”

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Kingsport Police Department and Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office all said no one alerted them.

“We were not aware of the situation prior to the announcement,” TBI Public Information Officer Leslie Earhart said.

“The Kingsport Police Department routinely receives referrals from the Department of Human Services (DHS), and those are either investigated by our Detectives or forwarded to the appropriate investigating agency, but per our Criminal Investigations Division, we have received no reports of merit specifically pertaining to the Brookhaven institution itself,” KPD Public Information Officer Tom Patton said.

“I spoke with our Criminal Investigations team and we were not ever notified of possible abuse or neglect at Brookhaven Manor,” SCSO Public Information Officer Kristen Quon said.

WJHL asked Adult Protective Services the same question, but a spokesperson said the agency couldn’t answer our question.

“Tennessee State law prevents DHS from disclosing any information on APS cases; therefore we cannot confirm or provide any information relative to your request,” Devin Stone said.

“I talked to Adult Protective Services and asked them if they knew about it beforehand. They said they did not,” Staubus said.

Regardless who’s to blame for the communication breakdown, the Staubus is hopeful the Department of Health and his office can be on the same page from now on.

“My hope is that in the future that this won’t happen again,” he said.

He says it is critical that both agencies partner on cases, so that if a crime occurs trained law enforcement officers can properly investigate.

“To the extent the law allows, TDH Health Licensure has shared information with law enforcement in the past and will continue to do so in the future,” McMillin said. “In regard to Brookhaven Manor, TDH Health Licensure has already spoken with the Sullivan County DA’s office, and we will continue to share information with them in the future.”

As for the ongoing criminal investigation, which the district attorney initiated, he says due to this delay in notification, charges are doubtful.

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