Waterbrooke’s future in limbo until Feb.

RainTree Managing Member Reema Owens

By DEUCE NIVEN

    It will apparently be February, at the earliest, before residents can return to Waterbrooke Assisted Living in Tabor City.
    Embattled operators of the assisted living facility have filed two appeals with the state Office of Administrative Hearings relating to efforts by the state to revoke its license to operate, an OAH spokeswoman said Wednesday. Hearings are not scheduled until early next February.
    Out of business and devoid of residence since Nov. 1, Waterbrooke was cited by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in September for a series of violations that it said prompted a notice of intent to revoke the facilities’ license.
    William Wrenn Jr., an Oxford attorney, filed two petitions seeking hearings with the OAH in October. Judge Melissa Owens Lassiter is scheduled to hear the case during the first week in February 2013, assistant Vickey Bullock said Wednesday.
    RainTree Health Care, the Waterbrooke operators, lost their lease on the facility at the end of October. Building owners from Care of North Carolina refused to renew the lease with RainTree, Yadkinville attorney Larry Reavis said. Reavis is one of the Care of North Carolina owners.
    RainTree, however, still holds the license to operate an assisted living facility in Tabor City, DHHS spokesman Jim Jones said. That license was due to expire at the end of the year, but it can not change hands until all appeals are settled, Jones said.
    Wrenn, the attorney who filed petitions on behalf of RainTree and managing member Reema Owens last month, no longer represents either, he said Wednesday.

Waterbrooke response
    About 30 of the more than 70 residents who had called Waterbrooke home before DHHS and Columbus County Department of Social Services workers descended on the facility on Sept. 20, in an attempt to get residents out.
    A judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings quickly approved a stay of the DHHS effort to remove residents. Some returned, but by late last month only about 30 were in the facility. They were all out, some taken to an adult care home in Clinton, others taken by family members, by Nov. 1.
    Owens, in the petition, argued by checking boxes on the DHHS form that the agency had “deprived me of property,” “otherwise substantially prejudiced my rights,” “exceeded its authority or jurisdiction,” “acted erroneously,” “failed to use proper procedure,” “acted arbitrarily or capriciously,” or “failed to act as required by law or rule.”
    Owens also argued in the petition that if its failures at Waterbrooke are proven, “it is reasonably probable that Petitioner (Owens) can remedy the licensure deficiencies within a reasonable length of time and it is reasonably probable that the Petitioner will be able to remain in compliance with the licensure rules for the foreseeable future.”
    In an Oct. 3 notice to RainTree, the DHHS said Waterbrooke “substantially failed to comply” with state law and agency rules regarding its operations.”
    Deficiencies in supervision and health care resulted in the death of a resident at Waterbrooke, John A. Herring Jr., on Sept. 6, DHHS documents allege. After falling three times under the Waterbrooke carport, Herring never helped by staff, but was taken inside by fellow residents, who put him to bed, the DHHS report said.
    Herring was dead when staff checked on him the next morning, two hours after staff members had looked in on him, but not physically checked him, the report said.
    “Administrative Penalty Proposal and Recommendation” documents completed by DHHS staff on Oct. 30, after a review of Waterbrooke’s formal response to the deficiencies cited by DHHS investigators, further documented the alleged failures by Waterbrooke regarding Herring, and additional failures in the areas of medication administration, and housekeeping and furnishing.
    Incidents involving patients not receiving prescribed medicines properly, a bedbug infestation and roach problem were documented in the earlier DHHS report.
    In every instance, the DHHS penalty proposal document said, Waterbrooke’s response was that “The facility was unaware or denies the existence of a violation(s).”
    There are no recommended penalty amounts, in dollars, on the DHHS forms. Spokesman Jim Jones said that is because the case will be reviewed by a judge at the Office of Administrative Hearings.
    Because DHHS never completely finished its review of Waterbrooke’s formal response to the agency’s notice of revocation, Jones said he was not sure when, or if, that document would be released.

Future
in doubt
    Reavis, the attorney and Waterbrooke facility owner, said late last month that a new contract to run Waterbrooke had been awarded to another company.
    Waterbrooke owners, without a license to operate, have an empty building, Care of North Carolina attorney Jacob Wagoner said.
    “From the standpoint of the owners of the building, they are just taking what steps they can to improve the building for the future,” Wagoner said. “The exterminators have been in to address the bedbug problem.”
    Eventually, Wagoner said, Care of NC wants to award a contract that will result in the re-opening of Waterbrooke, with a “chance to rebuild its reputation.

Missing meds
    Tabor City police have closed an investigation into medicines missing from two Waterbrooke residents in September, because the facility has closed and the former employees who were involved are now unemployed, Chief Donald Dowless said Tuesday.
    Narcotics from Herring, the resident who died, and that of another man sent to another facility briefly, went missing, the Sept. 21 report by Detective Lt. Jerry Sarvis said.
    Medications from Herring’s room were taken by a medical technician, employed at Waterbrooke, but methadone never made it to the pharmacy, the report said. Paperwork filed by the technician had the name “Meth” listed, but “scratched through,” the report said. Some 60 methadone tablets were unaccounted for.
    In a separate incident, a resident was sent briefly to another facility with 217 Oxycodone pills. When he returned, the same medical technician signed for the pills, documenting that 217 were returned.
    “Later on, a pill count was taken,” the report said. That count found only 120 Oxycodone tablets.
    In an Oct. 22 interview with Sarvis, the medical technician could not explain the discrepancies, but said she left Herring’s medication on a counter in the medical room, and instructed another employee to take the pills to the pharmacy.
    Both employees had been asked to take polygraph tests, Dowless said Tuesday. Now unemployed, both have now refused those tests.

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