Protecting Vulnerable Consumers At Public DHH Facilities

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Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine acted today to address what may be a systemic failure of reporting of potential abuse at the Pinecrest Supports and Services Center in Alexandria.

These actions result from an investigation commenced upon the arrest of five employees of Pinecrest for alleged abuse of residents. The five employees, including two shift supervisors and one home supervisor, were arrested after an internal investigation conducted in partnership with the District Attorney.

After the arrest, there were claims by employees of fear of retaliation for reporting abuse. Upon learning of these comments, Levine asked the State Inspector General to conduct an independent review of the policies, procedures and environment of care of the facility in October 2008.

"Louisiana's most precious and vulnerable people rely upon the services of Pinecrest and other state facilities to maintain their dignity and their rights. In fact, because of past allegations by the Attorney General of the United States of violations of the rights of the residents of Pinecrest, Louisiana had, in the past, been subject to scrutiny. We now find ourselves in a situation where employees of Pinecrest have been accused of abuse, and other employees expressed concern about speaking out about such abuse," Levine said.

"When the employees were recently arrested, I was disturbed to have read that other employees had been afraid to speak out about the abuse. At that time, I asked the Inspector General to conduct an independent review of Pinecrest—including assessing the environment, culture and policies—and to provide me with recommendations.

"There is no excuse for an employee of the state who witnesses potential abuse to withhold that information, and there is certainly no excuse for any employee to feel threatened when they do report potential abuse or violations of policies designed to protect residents or ensure the integrity of the facility. Anything less than an open environment is unacceptable, and I will hold management accountable for ensuring all steps are taken to ensure a safe and dignified environment for these precious and vulnerable citizens of our state."

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Immediate actions ordered by the Secretary include:

1. All existing and new staff at the Pinecrest facility will receive new training provided by the Louisiana Attorney General on Jan. 14 and 22, 2009, on reporting suspected abuse or unexplained patient injuries.

2. All existing and new staff will receive training annually.

3. DHH will appoint an ethics and compliance officer to establish a statewide compliance program for DHH facilities – to include the ability to provide employees a confidential avenue for reporting of alleged violations of policies or procedures that may impact the operating integrity of a facility.

4. DHH is implementing more frequent monitoring and reporting, including routine visits and observations by administrative and executive-level staff after hours and on weekends to provide additional oversight.

5. DHH will strictly enforce mandatory reporting when suspected abuse or neglect takes place. The policy will be amended to reflect that employees may be terminated immediately for failure to report suspected abuse. Any applicable state laws related to reporting of abuse will continue to be enforced.

In addition to these steps, DHH continues to aggressively investigate all allegations of abuse reported through the DHH abuse hotline. All allegations are taken seriously, and are investigated immediately upon receipt.

DHH maintains a zero-tolerance policy toward abuse and has a standing policy of suspending any employee suspected of abuse while an investigation is pending. All investigations are reported to local law enforcement and the Attorney General's office immediately upon receipt of an allegation by the Department.

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