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ODH fines Friends Care for assault

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The Friends Care Community aide who was charged with sexually violating a resident at the extended care facility was sentenced last week in Greene County Common Pleas Court to nine years in prison. Judge Stephen A. Wolaver sentenced Kevin Burns, 44, of Bowersville, as part of a negotiated plea after Burns admitted to raping a mentally and physically disabled resident at Friends on July 16. Two counts were dropped during the plea, but after his release, Burns was ordered to remain under community control and permanently designated a Tier III sex offender.

In the wake of the offense, Friends Care Community was investigated by the Ohio Department of Health, the center’s licensing body, whose regulators recommended the care center be fined $56,000 due to “conditions of jeopardy” that existed at the center in July. According to ODH spokesperson Tess Pollack, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will decide whether to impose the full fine.

On the afternoon of July 16, Friends staff was looking for Burns, a State Tested Nursing Assistant (STNA), to help with one of its residents. A staff member walked into the private room of a female resident Burns had been assigned to and found Burns having sexual contact with the resident, aged 54, and both mentally and physically compromised. While the resident was not physically injured, Friends immediately reported the incident to both the ODH and to Yellow Springs police because of the criminal nature of the offense, Friends Executive Director Karl Zalar said. While there are certain rights that residents have regarding consensual sexual relations with each other, sexual relations between a staff member and a resident are always prohibited, Zalar said.

“In an employee to resident situation, it is rape — no question about it, morally, ethically and professionally,” he said.

ODH recommended that Friends be fined in accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations, due to its finding that Friends’ Policy for Abuse, Neglect and Misappropriation of Property “did not address sexual abuse nor did the policy include guidelines on prevention of abuse, identification of abuse and/or protection of the resident from abuse,” an ODH report dated Aug. 12 states. Friends has since adopted a more detailed abuse policy and procedure and has trained its staff on how to handle cases of potential abuse, Zalar said.

However, according to Friends Board President Mary White, Friends is appealing the fine on its attorney’s advice, because every year the ODH completes a comprehensive survey of the nursing care facility and looks at all of its policies and approves them, White said. If regulators found the policy was incomplete, they should have notified the center long ago, she said.

In addition to the fine, Friends is also undergoing a “plan of correction,” mandated by ODH following the criminal incident, according to Zalar. The ODH completed an investigation of the center’s personnel and practices, and Friends then submitted a correction plan on Sept. 2, and is currently waiting for a response from ODH to fully implement it.

Since the incident, Friends has installed cameras at its entrances and each of its units in order to monitor who comes and goes from the building, Zalar said. The center has also equipped all of its staff members with two-way radios so that employees can be easily located when needed.

“We’ve done a lot of internal communications initiatives to know where staff is at all times, and in order to make the building feel more secure for residents, families and staff,” Zalar said this week.

Burns had no prior criminal record or negative employment history that Friends knew about when they hired him, Zalar said. He had been working for Friends for two years without incident before the assault occurred. Friends completes background checks on all of its employee applicants and interviews everyone using behavior-based situational questions to gauge the kind of judgement and care they think a new employee will provide for its residents. Management personnel regularly observe employees to ensure they are providing proper care for residents, Zalar said.

In the aftermath of the assault, Friends has provided the victim with a counselor through the Greene County Victim’s Advocacy Office as well as a consulting psychologist, whose support services other residents and staff members can access at any time as well, Zalar said. Friends also provides regular counseling for the day-to-day emotional needs of its staff.

“We try to deal with the stress of the job through consultants who come and talk about the needs of the caregivers,” he said. “This environment is very demanding because these people need a lot of care, and they demand and should expect nothing but the best.”

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