GREENFIELD — A Greenfield woman who ran an unlicensed senior-living facility out of her home will spend 2½ years on probation after admitting to abusing residents by using metal dog gates to keep them caged in their beds, prosecutors said.
Shawn Kearns, 65, pleaded guilty Wednesday to two Level 6 felony counts of neglect of a dependent and one misdemeanor count of criminal recklessness, court records show. She accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors that bars her from ever working with seniors again, prosecutors said.
Investigators with the Greenfield Police Department and Adult Protective Services began investigating the care of patients at Kearns Comfort Care in Greenfield after they found dog cages in each patient’s bedroom and some residents locked in their bedrooms with no way to call for help, court documents state.
Kearns skirted jailed time because she had no criminal history, and investigators didn’t find physical injuries to the patients removed from the facility, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Marie Castetter said.
Instead, the prosecutors worked to ensure Kearns could never repeat her crimes, Castetter said.
“It’s just inhumane treatment,” she said. “I don’t think anyone in their right mind would want their loved one caged up like that.”
Kearns ran her nursing facility out of her duplex in the 600 block of Green Meadows Drive. Because of the size of the facility, which housed seven people, she never was required to obtain a nursing home license and avoided inspections for years, investigators say.
The adults Kearns cared for were incapacitated; many were unable to clearly speak or communicate and were completely dependent on their caregivers, investigators said.
Detectives began investigating Kearns after a nurse made an unannounced visit the facility and reported concerns about patient care.
Police then went to the facility on several occasions and found evidence of abuse, court document state.
Kearns used bungee cords to attach dog cages to the perimeter of patients’ beds, “turning it into cage for the person in the bed,” court records state.
Kearns told investigators she used the gates as a safety measure to keep patients from falling out of the bed and said she did so with permission from the patients’ families, 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.
Kearns did not have a medical license, and she kept no records of what medicines the patients were given and relied on families to schedule doctors’ appointments, court records state.
She accepted only private payment instead of taking Medicaid or Medicare monies, which would have required more oversight, investigators said.
Kearns was arrested in November and originally faced five Level 6 felony counts of neglect of a dependent and three Class B misdemeanors of criminal recklessness. Half of those charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement, court records show.
Kearns’ son, David, who investigators say helped run the facility, originally faced similar criminal charges. His case, however, was dismissed by prosecutors in May after closed-court testimonies suggested he was not to blame for the poor living situations, officials said.
Kearns’ attorney, Jim McNew of Greenfield, did not return calls for comment.