Neglect alleged against care workers

Friday, January 20, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Two women indicted by the Marshall County grand jury face prosecution on felony counts alleging neglect of a 40-year-old man with the intelligence of a toddler.

Six months ago, a supervisor for the state-contracted company providing food, clothing and shelter for the man, had to crawl through a window into a Dodson Drive home because the front door couldn't be opened.

Inside, she found a former Nashville resident of Clover Bottom Developmental Center naked and chewing on his clothes while two caregivers were allegedly asleep on the job in another room.

That chain of events comes from the 40-year-old man's mother who is a Lewisburg resident, public records, a few cautious comments from District Attorney Chuck Crawford and neighbors near the house on the southwest side of Dodson Drive.

Charged with neglect are: Crystal Janae (Baugh-) Hamler, 20, whose address is listed in county jail records as 328 7th Ave., Lewisburg; and Megan Nicole Quam, 25, of an apartment in Columbia, believed to be on Dimple Court. They were arrested about two months ago by the Marshall County Sheriff's department as a result of an original indictment from grand jurors meeting in November when they heard testimony from Special Agent Ramona Smith of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and charges sought by Crawford.

Two hand-delivered letters to Hamler's address, and a neighbor's offer to reach her, resulted in a voice mail leaving a phone number that's no longer in service. Quam's Columbia-based attorney, Ronald Freemon, says his client pleaded not guilty.

The two women "were employed by Independent Opportunities Inc. (a Tulsa, Okla.-based business hired by Tennessee to provide care for former residents of Clover Bottom Developmental Center) to act as caretakers to ... William Robert Cummings," the resident of the house owned by IOI on Dodson Drive, according to the indictment.

The two women allegedly "deprived services to ... Cummings that were necessary to maintain ... [his] health and welfare..." the indictment states.

Cummings' mother said his ailment is a result of a birth defect. Some of his DNA is missing. It resulted in a dramatic restriction of his intellectual development.

He is helpless without constant care.

"Independent Opportunities Inc. provides services through the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD,)" the Tulsa-based company said in a prepared statement

"Our employees are required to complete several training modules prior to working a shift in someone's home," IOI said. "As a part of their training they are educated on the proper care and treatment of people with disabilities.

"Additionally," IOI said, "our employees are trained on reporting suspected abuse or neglect.

"It is unfortunate to receive an allegation of this nature," IOI said, having been asked specifically about the two employees who have been indicted - not convicted, "but we commend the staff that discovered and reported this incident as required by DIDD.

"We will continue to do our part to hire employees that have the heart and compassion to work with people that have special needs," IOI said.

No additional statement could be provided at that time, according to IOI's office manager in Columbia.

Neighbors of the house spoke publicly to the Tribune last summer and this fall when approached by the newspaper. The Dodson Drive house where Cummings lives is one of the first built on that street. While the several property owners who spoke indicated their compassion for someone with special needs, they didn't know why he's living in Lewisburg. His mother lives here.

However, the reason is more because he's not living in Clover Bottom Developmental Center. His move is a result of a federal lawsuit filed against the state 17 years ago when allegations were raised about the living conditions for handicapped people at Clover Bottom Developmental Center and several other state institutions.

Cummings' mother, Patsy Sullivan, lives near Cornersville Road. Her son moved here in 2000, she said. She was frank about dilemmas surrounding the care and feeding of the 40-year-old man she and her relatives call Boogie. He's a challenge, a "real booger" to handle sometimes.

"Any time you've got somebody caring for your people, there are going to be some good ones and some bad ones," she said. "If you don't have the patience for it, they shouldn't be in the field. I'm glad they are pursuing this further. Maybe it will wake some people up."

As for IOI employees' working conditions: "The majority of the days are easy. They can sit there and watch TV with him. It's like being home with a child. I know, some days he's really hyperactive, but they knew what they were getting into. If they don't have the nerve, they don't need to be there.'

As for the allegations now and previously: "It's been a he-said, she-said through the years."

State rules for contracted help requires reporting of allegations, she said. There have been a number of caregivers at the Dodson Drive house; "It's hard setting with handicapped people sometimes."

However, she said, "This wasn't a hard night" when the supervisor found the resident without clothes. His mother spoke highly of the supervisor.

"The state sends somebody down here every time there's a complaint. They have to take everybody into the office."

She's "heard stories" about other businesses providing care, but concludes that IOI "is one of the better companies," and she has "no complaints."

The malady suffered by the resident is pica, characterized by an appetite for substances with no nutritional value.

"He will eat the window sills off if you don't watch him," the mother said. "Lots of nights he won't sleep. He must have someone with him at arm's length ... He can't talk, walk or fed himself alone. He depends on his caretakers."

Bonnie and James Cozart live next door. He says he believes he's related to his 40-year-old neighbor and the man's mother.

"I heard he was eating wood," James Cozart said. "If he was going to eat wood and stuff, clothes would be nothing."

"William went to the hospital," last summer in late July, Bonnie Cozart said.

At least a few of the caretakers would take their charge outside at night and drive him around to calm him down, she said.

"I've never heard him talk," she said. "He just makes noise."

"They've got a bed for him, but he prefers to lay on a beanbag" chair, she said. "Most of the time they're trying to sooth him... by rubbing his hair."

She knows the state pays for her son's care because of a class action complaint in federal court. Her son is a member of the class action.

"Everybody who knows me knows it's my son. It's a small town.

"Most of the people who work with him love him and treat him like he was one of their own. That's really all I ask.

"He's a child, really, mentally," she said.

His condition is rare and the two cases now in Marshall County Circuit Court are very unusual, according to the prosecutor and the defense attorney.