Elderly woman found soaked in urine, feces inside independent living community

Posted at 10:25 PM, Mar 28, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. -- Jacqueline Carney still gets choked up when looking at pictures of her mom, Diane Franklin, who died in April of 2016.

"She was a real mentor to me... wow, that's hard… she was a remarkable woman," Carney said.

Especially, when she thinks about a horrifying incident at her mother's independent living community.

"We as a family let our guard down, said Carney. “We didn't call my mother every single day because you guys said you were going to. That's something I am going to live with for the rest of my life.”

Jacqueline Carney and her mother, Diane Franklin

Related: Melissa Hipolit's assisted living Problem Solver investigations

Franklin lived at Commonwealth Senior Living in Charlottesville.

The family picked that place because of their "daily check in" program.

The self-imposed program requires residents to call the front desk by 10:30 a.m. every day to check in.

If they fail to call, an employee is supposed to call them.

If they do not answer, an employee is supposed to physically find them.

Commonwealth Senior Living

But, Carney said on several occasions that program failed her mother.

"She was never able to get out of a bed again on her own," Carney said.

Carney said her mom broke her collarbone on a Wednesday making her unable to call or answer the phone.

Yet, Carney said nobody came to check on her mother until she herself found her four days later.

Commonwealth Senior Living admits to not checking on her for three days.

"I just simply called out mom," Carney said emotionally. "I'm sorry, this doesn't get any easier, this is the hardest part of the story for me."

Carney said by that time, her mother was soaked in urine and feces.

Carney ended up suing Commonwealth Senior Living, and the Carney family was awarded $900,000 pursuant to an arbitration settlement

While Carney's mom was in "independent living," which is not regulated by the state, Commonwealth Senior Living also operates 23 "assisted living" communities, which are regulated.

Jacqueline Carney and Melissa Hipolit

CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit did some research and found that nearly two-thirds of their facilities only have either a one year or provisional license from the state.

That means the state has found enough violations that they feel the need to visit the facility more often than those who did a better job meeting state standards, which are visited every two to three years.

Comparatively, about 39 percent of all facilities in the state currently have a provisional or one year license.

Hipolit took her research and Carney's concerns to the President of Commonwealth Senior Living, Richard Brewer.

"We are extremely apologetic to the resident and her family," Brewer said.

Brewer called what happened to Carney "unacceptable."

"The incident occurred as the result of a series of unintentional human errors that revealed a gap in our resident check in system," Brewer said.

"Should you have put it out there and marketed it before testing to make sure it was 100 percent working," Hipolit asked.

Richard Brewer

"When we put the system in we believed we were installing a best practice system, but as the result of a series of unintentional human errors it revealed a gap," Brewer said.

Hipolit learned the state found violations at Commonwealth Senior Living communities nearly 300 times since 2012.

Those violations included one incident where a resident did not receive their medications for 12 days, another where a resident was injured in the morning but was not sent to the hospital until 9 p.m., and one where a resident with dementia was able to escape the building through a key-pad protected door that was left ajar and cross a four lane street.

"Licensing visits are subjective, they're different inspectors, different regions, and they certainly don't tell the whole story about a community," Brewer said when asked about the violations.

Commonwealth Senior Living

"How can you guarantee to people that their loved ones are being kept safe in your facilities when we see time and again these issues?" Hipolit asked Brewer.

"We've been doing this for 15 years now.  We've always had our licenses renewed when there is an infraction. I think this is the sign of a good operator, they address it they come up with a plan of correction," Brewer responded.

And some residents have no complaints.

Ninety-two-year-old Benjamin Bucko, who lives in the same community where Carney's mom lived, said, at least for him and his wife, they love Commonwealth.

"We just enjoy living here because of the activities, the friendship we have with management, the relationship with the other residents, all the activities. We're satisfied," Bucko said.

Diane Franklin

But Carney sees things differently.

"I hope other places are doing it better than they are, because if they aren't, we have a huge problem in the Commonwealth of Virginia. There are a lot of people who are at risk here, and that worries me greatly," Carney said.

Commonwealth Senior Living is the single largest contributor to the group that lobbies the state legislature on behalf of assisted living communities.

So far, they have given more than $20,000 to the Virginia Assisted Living Association.

Brewer said Commonwealth helped develop the PAC to ensure the legislature is informed about issues facing the industry.

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