State says 140 cases of abuse or neglect reported at Restore Care, operator disputes claims

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Before a packed courtroom the Alabama Department of Mental Health argued today that a local provider of residential services had 140 reported instances of abuse and neglect since October involving its mentally disabled residents.

Attorney Tommy Klinner told Circuit Judge Donna Pate this afternoon that Toney-based Restore Care should not be allowed to stop state workers from removing about 35 residents from the 14 homes operated by Restore Care in Madison County.

The courtroom was filled with Restore Care supporters who expressed dismay with the state’s claims and nodded in appreciation when Restore Care seemed to score points in disputing the allegations.

Courtney Tarver, associate commissioner for the agency’s developmental disabilities division, testified that it was unusual for the agency to move to decertify a facility and remove residents. But Tarver said the volume and nature of the complaints — including reports of bruised residents, medication errors, delayed medical treatment and a report of a staff member striking a resident — led the state to decide it needed to step in to remove residents. He said since the decertification notice was announced Sept. 22, they have received even more complaints. Tarver said the state’s investigation is ongoing.

But Dr. Celia Lloyd-Turney, who has operated Restore Care since 2001, strongly denied the state’s claims during hearing testimony.  She addressed some of the claims, saying the state had incomplete or incorrect information and said the allegation that a staffer hit a resident was absolutely not true.

During a sometimes tense cross-examination Klinner challenged Turney’s claims that Restore Care investigated, documented and reported every incident that came to its attention.  Turney, a physician, appeared well aware of the incidents cited by Tarver and stressed that the state’s versions omitted key facts.

“On any given day there may be an incident,” she said, following  the hearing. “We report it and that’s what they’re saying, but they do not rise to the level of anything. This is in fact not the truth.”

Restore Care’s attorney, Melissa Helton Kelly, also called two family members who have loved ones in the company’s homes.

Janice Eckstein testified her son has been with Restore Care for more than five years and has made substantial progress. She said someone from the state called her last week to notify her that her son was being moved, but could provide no details. Eckstein testified she asked for three days where he was being moved and why he had to leave Restore Care, but got no answers.

During cross-examination Klinner noted Eckstein’s son had a situation where he was not given medication and he suffered a seizure. Eckstein said the issue was addressed by Restore Care and she was satisfied with the outcome.

Julie Levasseur testified her brother has been with Restore Care for the past 13 years.  She testified that her brother had a problem ear infection that led a social worker to report that his care had been neglected, but she opposed the reporting of the incident. She said it didn’t rise to the level of injury or accident. He received surgery for the ear last week and she wants him to remain with Restore Care.

Judge Pate said she will review the numerous documents provided by the parties in today’s hearing and then issue a ruling. There’s no word on when that ruling will come.

Klinner said following the hearing that the state would not act to remove residents prior to the judge’s ruling.

Lloyd-Turney said she will file an administrative appeal of the state’s decertification move and is confident Restore Care will prevail.

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