ATLANTA -- After officials launched an investigation into an Atlanta mental health care facility following two separate incidents involving patients, 11Alive found that the facility had been cited for previous violations dating back five years.
Earlier this month, parents of a 12-year-old girl with autism receiving treatment at the Laurel Heights facility on Briarcliff Road reached out 11Alive after they said their daughter was scalded by hot water. According to them, the girl tried to take a shower by herself when she should have been supervised.
That 11Alive report prompted the Department of Community Health to launch an investigation shortly after. But just weeks later, DeKalb County Police confirmed that they were investigating the death of another one of Laurel Height’s patients.
In that incident, staff allegedly tackled a patient, 19-year-old Austin Skidmore, during lunch after they said he got “agitated.” Skidmore apparently choked and stopped breathing, though reports of what happened differ from those of Emory Hospital staff, who worked on Skidmore before he died. A police report also showed that staff waited 20 minutes after the incident before calling 911.
11Alive’s Kaitlyn Ross spoke to the spokesperson for Department of Community Health on Tuesday who were out at the facility investigating Skidmore’s. They say they're going to find out exactly what happened.
But according to public records obtained by 11Alive, the facility has been cited for violations going back to 2011. In 2014 the Department of Community Health found Laurel Heights so far out of compliance, the facility almost lost its affiliation with Medicare. In 2015, the facility was warned about improperly restraining patients.
It’s patterns like these that attorney Scott Campbell finds troubling.
"When you have for profit healthcare facilities, sometimes vulnerable patients and their needs get lost,” he told 11Alive. Campbell is representing the family of the young girl burned two weeks ago. He said his clients are considering a lawsuit against the hospital in connection with the incident.
Campbell said he was concerned by the death of Skidmore. “Why did it happen? Could it have been prevented? Did it happen before,” he asked. “Parents should be able to trust the care of their children to agencies who have chosen to be in that business.”
Police are still investigating the incident and are waiting for Skidmore's autopsy results. 11Alive has repeatedly reached out to Laurel Heights for a comment, but the facility has repeatedly refused to comment about either incident or the investigations.