State nursing home complaint hotline on the fritz

- See something, say something. It's a good rule to follow anytime you spot something you think is wrong. But the FOX 5 I-Team discovered it's hard to say something about problems inside a Georgia nursing home when the state's complaint hotline is not always working.

Just ask Lisa Overholt.

"I called five separate times and left five separate messages," complained the former staffing coordinator for Mountain View Health Care in Rabun County. That's more than a month's worth of calls to the hotline.

Lisa sighed. "They never called."

The hotline, operated by the Georgia Department of Community Health, is one way the public is supposed to report alleged abuse. There's also an online complaint form. We found neither working properly, a problem that's been going on at least since the beginning of the year.

Lisa Overholt has the sort of complaint you'd think Georgia regulators should want to hear. She says she constantly had trouble keeping staffing at the required levels. It bothered her even more when, according to a Clayton police report, a 61-year-old resident died in December after cutting her foot. The case was ultimately closed without any charges.
    
Lisa says she doesn't know whether short staffing played any role, but she felt it her duty to call the state.

"You can't properly take care of people that are in the building unless you have enough staff to take care of them adequately," she pointed out.

She says she tried to get Mountain View to hire enough replacement staff, but got nowhere, forcing some to work extraordinary amounts of overtime. According to her complaint to the state labor board, the facility is a "severely understaffed Nursing Home where Management is forcing employees to remain inside the building."

"So you're saying staff was kept against their will in this nursing home because you didn't have enough people to work?" I asked her.

"Yes. Yes," she replied. "There have been several situations where residents just seemed to waste away. Many of them. Just because there's not enough people to take care of them."

The Medicare.gov nursing home website gives Mountain View a "much above average" rating for inspections, but a "much below average" for staffing. The facility did not respond to our request for comment.
    
Lisa says when no one from the state hotline called her back, she tried to fill out the online complaint form. It wasn't working, either.

The Department of Community Health admits they've got a problem, but wouldn't provide anyone to talk on camera. They say they've fixed the online form and are moving to a different phone system over the next few months in hopes of resolving the hotline problems. They say they make every effort to return phone calls within 24 hours.

Lisa says her complaint was serious enough to warrant a quick return call.

"Patients are not being showered like they should be, waiting a week to 10 days at a time between showering," she stressed.
    
While we watched, Lisa tried again to leave a message on the hotline. For the sixth time. Two days later --  and the day after we called the state asking about the hotline -- Lisa says she finally got a return call.
    
She's also managed now to send in a written online complaint about staffing and her concerns for the patient who bled to death, writing "residents are being left unattended for hours."
    
She's hoping the state will finally look into her complaint nearly two months after she first tried to say something after she saw something.

"The patients deserve that care," she stressed. "That's somebody's mother. Somebody's sister. Somebody's brother. They deserve to be taken care of just like you would your own child."

 

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