Legislators frustrated with lack of answers on Hopemont incident that led to death of resident

MORGANTOWN – Legislators tried to learn more on Tuesday about the January incident at Hopemont Hospital that led to a resident’s death, and expressed frustration they couldn’t get answers.

It was the last day of May interims and the members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability had the Office of Inspector General report on this incident and others dating back several years in front of them.

But Jessica Whitmore, OIG general counsel, told the legislators that Hopemont is certified by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and while the PIG visited the site and compiled the report, it is a federal report and CMS didn’t allow her to discuss specifics.

She gave that response several times. After one, Delegate Matt Rorbach, R-Cabell, said, “It appears we’re not going to get any answers today to much of anything.”

After another, Sen. Vince Deeds, R-Greenbrier, said, “We’re talking all around it without getting a whole lot of answers.”

On Jan 4, the Hopemont resident – a nonverbal 94-year-old with dementia and other medical conditions who required total care – was placed in a whirlpool bath and subjected to hot water temperatures of 134 degrees Fahrenheit and suffered multiple burns. He was transferred to Preston Memorial where it was determined he had second-degree burns across 35% of his body.

He later died. Two nursing assistants, a registered nurse and a maintenance supervisor are no longer employed at Hopemont, according to the OIG’s Feb. 9 report – called a complaint survey.

It notes that on Jan. 11, Hopemont adopted a bathing policy which includes taking water temperatures prior to individual resident bathing to ensure a temperature of no higher than 110 degrees, and supervision of residents during bathing to prevent harm.

A March 26 follow-up visit report said, “The facility was found to have corrected the previously cited deficient practices.”

Delegate Bob Fehrenbacher, R-Wood, called the incident “very telling failures at multiple levels” and wanted more details. But Whitmore said CMS rules prevented her from saying more than what was on the pages in front of him.

Another delegate wanted to know if there is a process where systemic leanings from the complaints in the stack can be shared among Department of Heath Facilities facilities to avoid repeated failures.

Whitmore said OIG is independent of the three agencies the former Department of Health and Human Resources was divided into and isn’t responsible for what they do with the information. (DHF Secretary Michael Caruso said in a later presentation they do share and apply lessons learned).

Another member asked if penalties can be applied in such instances. Whitmore said there are some monetary penalties but those are up to CMS.

While it’s been reported that the resident died, Whitmore didn’t know the patient’s fate when asked, because he was transferred to another facility and that was outside Hopemont’s responsibility and outside the scope of the report.

Commission co-chair Heather Tully, R-Nicholas, posed a question that alluded to legislator complaints that an April 16 meeting with Caruso was canceled – allegedly because of interference from the executive branch (an allegation Gov. Jim Justice has denied).

Tully asked Whitmore if she was required to limit her testimony by any outside person. Whitmore said no.

Deeds said more transparency about what goes on at state facilities is needed.

And Delegate Ric Griffith, D-Wayne, commented on the bureaucratic and regulatory disjointedness, “It’s kind of hard to do oversight when you don’t have sight.”

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