When June Campbell heard rumblings of an argument down the hall inside the assisted living facility where she worked this past April, she decided to investigate.
What she found, stopped her in her tracks.
It was a caregiver hitting and slapping 89-year-old Evalyn Hall, a resident who lived at The Social at Savannah. “At first, I’m thinking she trying to detain her, but after I kept watching, and she hit her and banged her head against the wall, I was like, ‘This is too much,’” Campbell, another aide said.
Campbell says she made a split-second decision to record the incident on her cell phone instead of stepping in because she feared the facility would sweep the incident under the rug. She was prepared to stop the altercation if it escalated.
“I chose to videotape it to show the daughter what exactly is going on. If I had not had video-taped it, it would have been my word against theirs,” Campbell said.
Hall may not have been a reliable witness because she suffers from Alzheimer's, a debilitating disease that slowly destroys memory and other cognitive functions.
The 59-second video shows the caretaker, Reine Smith, hitting Hall, pushing her head against a wall, and pulling the woman’s frail body out of a wheelchair by her hair. Campbell showed the video to Hall’s daughter, Francis Vaughn, about two weeks later. “I cried because it was horrible," Vaughn said. “When you sit there and look at it, it’s awful.”
Pictures of alleged abuse against Evalyn Hall, an Alzheimer's resident
State records show the incident was in response to Smith asking Hall to change into pajamas. Hall refused. The aide wouldn’t take no for an answer. Hall bit her in return.
“[Smith] could have just walked away, but she didn’t. She chose to stay there and fight with the lady,” Campbell said.
According to an investigation completed by the Georgia Department of Community Health (GDCH) on June 21, the facility failed Hall on multiple fronts, including not reporting the alleged abuse immediately to state licensing officials and law enforcement when management first learned about the incident.
Vaughn says she became aware of the incident about a week later while visiting her mother. Campbell approached her and suggested asking her mother what happened. She told Vaughn that she had proof if the facility denied it happened, but did not immediately reveal she recorded it on her cell phone.
According to Vaughn, her mother described the attack in detail, mirroring what happened in the video. She then reported the incident to the facility’s director. Campbell says she confirmed the same details with the director at that time, too. No one at the facility called the police that day.
“They should have called law enforcement that night. It should have been brought in and investigated. It should have been reported to the state that night,” Vaughn said.
A few days later, Vaughn asked Campbell for the proof. Campbell sent her a copy of the video.
Savannah police arrested Smith 50 days after the incident. She’s charged with exploitation, infliction of pain and deprivation of essential services to an elderly person.
State health inspectors also identified staffing shortages the evening of Hall’s attack. According to their findings, Smith was the only caregiver in the memory care unit where the incident happened, responsible for 12 residents with cognitive issues. Two of those residents required a “two-staff assist.”
“[T]he assisted living community failed to staff above the minimum onsite staff ratios to meet the specific residents' ongoing health, safety, and care needs,” the report stated.
An internal email cited by GDCH’s report revealed one employee was concerned with co-workers who called out all the time, which “left the facility in a staffing crisis.”
“If they were unable to provide sufficient staffing, then you bring in people from wherever, or you notify the state or for goodness sakes, let the families know,” Mike Prieto said, the attorney representing Hall and her daughter in a lawsuit filed on Monday.
The lawsuit, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, alleges the company failed to protect Hall from neglect, did not properly train staff or contact a doctor when they learned about the alleged abuse.
Thrive did not respond when The Reveal asked if it wanted to comment on the lawsuit’s claims.
The Social at Savannah, previously named Savannah Commons, is owned and operated by Thrive Senior Living. The Atlanta-based company owns nine long-term care facilities in four states.
The Reveal, 11Alive’s investigative team, reached out to Thrive multiple times, requesting an on-camera interview.
The company declined, but through a public relations firm, responded by email last week.
“The Social at Savannah team was deeply saddened by a recent incident involving the care of a resident in our community,” the spokesperson wrote. “We were enraged by a video that was shared with our team: we do not tolerate insensitive behavior or care of any kind, and the individual involved was immediately terminated.”
According to GDCH’s report, Thrive fired the caregiver on May 13, but, she wasn’t the only person banned from the facility.
Campbell says management at The Social at Savannah told her she was not allowed back inside the facility in August, about two months after the state’s investigation.
The company told her boss it was in response to verbally assaulting Campbell’s long-time client with Alzheimer's, a man she had taken care of for about six years who lived in the same long-term care community.
Campbell says that’s not true. Her boss, and her former client’s family, tell The Reveal they don’t believe the company, either. “I know what it is. It’s retaliation and that’s all it is, retaliation,” Campbell said.
Hall’s daughter feels the same way. “I believe that’s the reason why. I believe they did it because she took the video and they are striking out at her,” Vaughn said.
Thrive says Campbell was never banned from the facility but does admit she was “prohibited from working in the community until she addressed concerns related to that separate investigation, which she declined to do.”
Campbell says facility management and police never questioned her about the alleged incident.
Prieto calls Campbell a hero for recording the video. “But for her actions, this would have been swept under the rug,” Prieto said.
The ban means lost income for Campbell, who is 58-years-old. She was forced to resign because she cannot take care of her client. “It has made a big difference,” she said. “Living paycheck to paycheck pretty much.”
Campbell says she’d do it all over again. “I look at it, like, that could have been my mother. That could have been my grandmother, that could have been anybody’s grandmother,” she said.
History of Violations:
Thrive called the alleged abuse caught on camera an isolated incident that “in no way reflects the character of the professionals in our community, or the quality of care we provide.”
According to inspection reports posted on GDCH’s website, The Social at Savannah has a history of state violations.
Since June 2019, the facility has been inspected at least 16 times. The state identified violations during half of those inspections, some of which put residents in serious jeopardy.
In September 2019, investigators discovered management mistakenly left an elderly resident behind during a hurricane evacuation.
When staff arrived at its host facility to ride out the storm, they realized the resident was locked inside a memory care unit back in Savannah. An employee had to drive 45 minutes to meet another staff member to pick up the resident.
In November last year, an employee called law enforcement after discovering a resident was suffering from psychosis and covered in feces.
According to the report, there was “no documentation that staff had called a physician or pharmacy to see when medications had been discontinued or why. There was no documentation that the facility had contacted the emergency contact listed on the face sheet. There was also no documentation that staff entered the apartment of Resident #1 to assess if there were any fire safety or health hazard issues.”
Six months later, the state cited the facility for failing to report a death. "The facility failed to ensure that any accidental/unanticipated deaths were reported to the Department within 24 hours after the incident for 1 of 1 sampled residents," the state health inspector wrote.
The Reveal requested an interview with Thrive to respond to the prior violations, but it did not get a response. A spokesperson says the company recently changed management at the facility. You can find a copy of the state's investigation here.