Longtime abuses feared at state home for disabled

Injury records go back years

Staff WriterNovember 19, 2010 

— Investigators probing the abuse of residents of a state-run home for people with mental disabilities in Morganton are studying records of unexplained injuries going back years.

The state Department of Health and Human Services announced this week that eight state workers were fired and a temporary employee dismissed over a case of abuse on Oct. 24. Two workers were fired for abusing residents, while others were dismissed for failing to report the abuse or falsifying medical records to cover up the cause of the injuries.

On Thursday, the department confirmed that the abuse of residents at the J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center could be more widespread than the incident last month, during which a resident suffered a fractured toe, bruises and abrasions.

On Sept. 26, a resident sustained a fractured finger that is now alleged to have been caused by a staff member.

The abuse allegations center on Hemlock House, a residence for adults with such severe cognitive impairments they need staff assistance with routine tasks such as eating, bathing and brushing their teeth. Some of the residents can't speak.

The families of the residents injured in September and October have been notified of the investigation, said Mark Van Sciver, a spokesman for DHHS.

In a written statement, the spokesman said that employees interviewed during the preliminary investigation raised questions about past injuries that had previously been reported as being of "unknown origin." Resident injuries written up as accidents are also now being re-examined, Van Sciver said.

No criminal charges have been filed. The agency has also not released the names of the employees fired.

In a written statement, Riddle Center Director Art Robarge said Thursday that he wanted to send a clear message to his staff that it is never acceptable for an employee to observe abuse and then fail to report it.

"I will do everything in my power to ensure that those who failed to report these incidents cannot hide behind the claim of being afraid of retribution as their reason for failure to report," Robarge said. "This kind of failure to carry out duties to protect our most vulnerable population is inexcusable and will not be tolerated."

michael.biesecker@newsobserver.com or 919-839-4698

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