JACKSON COUNTY, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News was there Tuesday night when the owner of a personal care home walked out of jail after making bond.
Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh was the first reporter there, as officials with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Department of Revenue and Commerce police executed a search warrant at the Alzheimer's Care of Commerce on Bolton Drive.
There were more than 70 warrants for 21 people. The arrests were the result of a three-month investigation involving several agencies.
The GBI said the facility has room for about 50 patients, but there were 26. The agency believes employees restrained patients with bed sheets and placed multiple diapers on them to avoid frequent changing. There are also accounts of employees striking patients and throwing water on them.
In violation of state regulations, employees had prior felony convictions, ranging from voluntary manslaughter to drug charges, the GBI said. A May audit also showed unauthorized personnel administered medication, and some medications were unaccounted for.
Two previous inspections revealed some issues, but no outright abuse.
"Many of the indicators of abuse are not obvious," GBI Director Vernon Keenan said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference on the findings.
Kavanaugh examined August 2011 and April 2013 inspection reports concluded by the Department of Community Health, and neither mention any abuse. However, they did cite some issues with employees not having the proper background checks.
The DCH sent Kavanaugh a statement saying there was a follow-up investigation in May.
"DCH conducted an investigation on May 21 subsequent to the April investigation in which deficiencies were substantiated consistent with the GBI's allegations. Following the May 21 investigation, DCH monitored the facility on a daily basis until the facility was in full compliance," the statement said in part.
Wright, the owner of the facility, faces several charges, including abuse, neglect, financial exploitation and failure to report under the protection of disabled adults and the elderly.
Some of the other suspects are Myra Kitchens, Deborah Nation, Brittany Rollins, Crista Pittman, Kenyonna Pittman, Danny Sue Wingfield, Shirly Baird, Susan Martin, Shirly James, Lonnie Strickland and Sheila Strickland.
GBI agents removed box loads of items along with computers from the home as possible evidence Tuesday night.
An employee, who only identified himself as Douglas, said he never saw any abuse.
"I don't see that's the case. To me, I take care of them residents like they were my own grandparents," Douglas said.
Channel 2's Tony Thomas was there as family members of the home's patients moved belongings out of the home. Now, they are forced to find a new place for their loved ones to live.
Many of the family members Thomas spoke with said that there was no indication of problems.
"He's never had a bruise, he never looked like he wasn't kept well," said Debbie Cokl, who had a relative living at the home.
"Had no complaint about their care," Gwen Ivester said.
Wright's attorney, Mo Wiltshire, said the allegations are overblown.
"I don't' know if it's fair to call everything false. I do think, usually what you see, and I think we will see in this case, it's exaggerated, overblown and really unmerited," Wiltshire said.
Wiltshire released a statement late Tuesday night saying, in part, "Mrs. Wright is shocked and saddened by the allegations made today. She works hard to ensure that the residents of the center are treated like family and enjoy a safe, secure and loving environment. Alzheimer’s Care of Commerce has been inspected by government overseers repeatedly during its 18 year existence and until today has never been suspended or shut down by the government for any reason.
"We fully intend to show that the allegations against Mrs. Wright are without a fair basis in fact and that she is innocent of any intentional wrongdoing."
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