Son seeks justice, changes after mother dies in nursing home

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - David Christmas lost his mother six months ago. He had spent years caring for her at his home before making a decision he says he regrets now.

He had to place her in a nursing home.

"I would have literally almost rather taken a gun and committed suicide," said Christmas. "That's the hardest thing I have ever faced in my life."

Christmas faced another challenge: finding a clean, safe nursing home. He says he spent time trying to figure out how to get a hold of records, but didn't have the time or resources to get it done.

"You have to go on their word because I couldn't find out any other way to do it without a lot of expense and time," said Christmas.

Christmas settled on Kingstree Nursing Facility.  

"My mother was placed on May the 7th of 2012," said Christmas, "and on Oct. 17th of 2012, she was dead."

His 90-year-old mother lay in a hospital bed with a broken hip and bruised from head to toe.

Kingstree police opened an assault investigation and went back to the nursing home to find out what happened. Christmas got out a camera and documented the injuries.

"Something happened," said Christmas. "I don't know what, but something happened."

Christmas says his mother told him she was attacked. All she could tell him was it was by two women.

We went to the nursing home to find out what's happening with the investigation and spoke about the investigation with an administrator named Candy.

"I can tell you that we have cooperated with the local authorities and we have completed our in-house investigation," said Candy.

However, Candy said she could not release the results of that investigation.

A year ago, the feds rated Kingstree Nursing "above average," but inspection reports show they were written up for failing to report a patient head injury to the feds and for failing to implement neglect/abuse policies at the center.

It's records like these that could have helped Christmas make a more-informed decision. The feds have set up a website where you can search through reports from the past three years, but if you want to see DHEC's reports, that's a little difficult.

We went to DHEC to see if we could look at some inspection records. We signed in and were directed to the agency's Freedom of Information Office where staffers asked us to file a formal request for some specific records. DHEC doesn't post the records online.

DHEC Director Catherine Templeton says she's ordered staffers to get the state's nursing home reports online within the next eight months.

"We have to be right about how we do it, and so we're working on that," said Templeton.

The delay, Templeton says, is because DHEC needs to make sure how they do it doesn't violate patient privacy or allow cyber attacks of the department server.

"They'll be online by the end of the year and that's a great accomplishment given how many there are, how many people we have to put them online, but it's absolutely a commitment I made to the public, that the governor made to transparency, and we're happy to do it," said Templeton.

As for Christmas, he says SLED agents told him last week they're about to close his mother's case and hand it over to the solicitor's office. That doesn't guarantee anyone will face charges in the case.

"If there's any way possible to find out who did it, I want them to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said Christmas.

"I miss her, but there's nothing I can do to bring my mother back. But, I hope that I can say something in this that will help somebody else."

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