GREENFIELD — A mother and son running an adult-care facility out of their Greenfield home used metal dog gates to keep patients caged in their beds, locked residents in their rooms and left those in their care alone for hours, according to court documents.
Shawn Kearns, 64, and her son, David Kearns, 35, face charges of neglect and criminal recklessness. They were arrested Monday morning following an investigation into their company, Kearns Comfort Care, in the 600 block of Green Meadows Drive.
First responders took the seven seniors who had been living at the makeshift nursing home to Hancock Regional Hospital for care after the pair were arrested at the home Monday morning, police said.
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The adults were mostly incapacitated; many were unable to clearly speak or communicate and were completely dependent on their caregivers, investigators said.
The Kearns ran the business out of their duplex without a license: Shawn Kearns and David Kearns lived in one side of structure, while the patients they cared for occupied the other side, according to court records.
Neither of the Kearns had a medical license or any certifications that allowed them to use their home to operate as a nursing or group home or long-term care facility, said Jerry Kiefer, an investigator for the state Adult Protective Services unit. Because a small number of patients lived in the home, operations there hadn’t raised any red flags until a hospice nurse who visited made a complaint earlier this month, according to court records.
The nurse reported her concerns to a supervisor, who then contacted Kiefer and the Greenfield Police Department, and a series of visits were made to Kearns Comfort Care, police said.
Dog gates were found in every room, some secured with bungee cords to the perimeter of patients’ beds or stored near the foot of the bed, “turning it into cage for the person in the bed,” court records state.
Shawn Kearns told investigators she put the gates in place for safety reasons, mainly to keep the patients from falling out of the bed, and only did so with permission from the patient’s family, court records state.
But investigators said the gates failed to keep the patients safely in place: when the hospice nurse returned to the facility with her supervisor, they found a woman trapped underneath her bed, having squeezed in between the gate and her bed, court documents state.
The woman, who was wearing a soiled adult diaper, was lying on the linoleum floor with the cord from a window curtain wrapped around her foot when they found her, court records state.
The woman had been alone in a closed room, and David Kearns told investigators it had been more than an hour since anyone checked on her, court records state.
Several other patients were found locked in their rooms; none of the rooms were equipped with call buttons, intercoms or cameras for residents to notify staff of an emergency, court records state. With the doors locked from the outside, the patients had no way of exiting the building in an event of a fire or other emergency, investigators said.
The Kearnses kept no records of what medicines the patients were given and relied on families to schedule doctors’ appointments, court records state. They accepted only private payment for their services and did not take Medicaid or Medicare monies, investigators said.
Had Medicaid or Medicare been accepted, the facility would have required more oversight, Kiefer said.
Nursing and group homes are required to undergo safety inspections and are subject to visits from Adult Protective Services investigators, Kiefer said. There are rules regarding how often residents must be checked on or cared for and how medication is administered and recorded — all with patients’ safety in mind, Kiefer said.
But because of a loophole in state law, it seems the facility avoided inspection for years because it is considered a private residence, Kiefer said.
Greenfield Police Detective Lt. Randy Ratliff said businesses have been run out of the location under different ownership since the early 1990s.
Shawn Kearns faces five Level 5 felony counts of neglect of a dependent and three Class B misdemeanors counts of criminal recklessness. David Kearns faces two Level 5 felony counts of neglect of a dependent and one Class B misdemeanor of criminal recklessness.
The penalty for a Level 5 felony ranges from one to six years; the penalty for Class B misdemeanors ranges zero to 180 days in jail.
The Kearnses were housed in the Hancock County Jail at press time. They are expected to appear in court today, when attorneys likely will be appointed to represent them.