Commonwealth Journal

Local News

September 24, 2010

Former Oakwood employees charged with abuse

Somerset — Oakwood has avoided controversy for a long time now, following a string of citations earlier in the decade for incidents of abuse and neglect, but an investigation of the state attorney general’s office announced yesterday has forced the mental health facility back into the spotlight.Attorney General Jack Conway — a Democrat who is running for a U.S. Senate seat this year against Republican Rand Paul — and his Office of Medicaid Fraud and Abuse Control announced in a press release that five former caregivers at the Bluegrass Oakwood Community Center here in Somerset were charged Wednesday with reckless abuse of a vulnerable adult, and with failure to report that abuse under KRS statutes.

The suspects charged in the case were 21-year-old Michael Whitaker, 21, of Mt. Vernon, William Keene, 21, of Somerset, Joshua Walters, 21, of Bronston, Robert Carosello, 22, of Ferguson and Brandon Cameron, 21, of Somerset. None of the five continue to work at Oakwood.A statement released by the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services on Thursday said, “The Cabinet is always concerned about any allegations of abuse and neglect. We are pleased that the Attorney General continues to pursue these issues.”

According to Conway’s office, on or about August 17, “the defendants unreasonably confined a mildly mentally disabled resident in a room at Oakwood. Once inside the room, the defendants recklessly inflicted injuries on the victim including bruising to his torso and neck.

“None of the defendants notified the Cabinet of Health and Family Services of the suspected abuse immediately as required by KRS 209.030. Once Oakwood administration became aware of the incident, approximately three days later, they sent the resident to the hospital and the Department of Community Based Services.”

Shannon Ware, executive director of the Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board, which manages Oakwood for the state, said that when the bruising was noticed, Bluegrass officials “asked the individual, ‘What’s going on?’ and he said somebody hurt him, and we launched an investigation immediately.”

Ware said the police were promptly called and the suspects were removed from campus in late August. She believes it wasn’t a blatant attack, but rather a situation that was handled “the wrong way” while trying to control a patient.

“That’s one of the things that’s really strong about out policies — we can get people out of the way while we look into (these types of allegations),” said Ware. “We get them off campus, they’re considered suspended and we do the investigation. If we’re wrong, we get them back and they’re reinstated, but our first priority is to protect the (disabled) individual.”

Ware reported that the five suspects never came back to work after being removed from campus following the discovery of the problem.

“We just have zero tolerance for something like this,” she said.

Ware believes it wasn’t a blatant attack, but rather a situation that was handled “the wrong way” while trying to control a patient.

Summonses were issued for the defendants, and all of them are required to appear in Pulaski District Court on October 14 at 9:30 a.m. The Pulaski County Attorney's Office is handling the prosecution of this case.

The charges are a result of an investigation conducted by General Conway's Office of Medicaid Fraud and Abuse Control, with assistance by employees of the Department of Community Based Services and the Office of the Inspector General. 

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