RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - Inspection records and incident reports compiled by the state agency responsible for regulating mental health facilities stays virtually locked in a filing cabinet in Raleigh, an On Your Side investigation has found.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service's Division of Health Service Regulation is responsible for licensing and supervising mental health facilities across the state, including group homes and day treatment facilities.
By law, the licensed facilities must be regularly inspected and reports of deaths or injuries at licensed facilities must be reported to DHHS.
But an On Your Side investigation has found getting access to that information, which families could rely on to choose the best facility for their loved one, takes months of persistence and negotiating.
We started asking for access to all inspection records and incident reports for facilities run by RHA Health Services in North Carolina after Gregory Clark died for injuries he sustained at a group home run by the company the week before Christmas.
Clark, who suffered from epilepsy, drowned in the bathtub after he was left unattended at the Lin Oak group home in Lincolnton.
By law, a report of the incident was submitted to NC DHHS.
In mid-January, On Your Side investigates requested all inspection records and incident reports for RHA facilities in North Carolina for the last six months of 2015. We wanted to know how often incidents like the one that killed Gregory Clark occur.
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At first, a spokesman for NC DHHS asked us to revise our request. When we refused, we were told it would take more than 50 hours to compile the records because they were located in different filing cabinets.
At the time, the state said we would have to pay hundreds of dollars to get the records because of the man-hours required to compile the records.
But, weeks later, after we questioned the state's time and cost estimate, a spokesman said the records would be ready by early March.
March and April came and went without any records responsive to our request being provided. Finally, in early May, the agency said it would begin providing batches of responsive records as they were ready.
The first batch of records was sent the day On Your Side Investigates requested the agency provide comment for a story about the difficulty in gaining access to the records we had requested.
Kate Murphy, a spokeswoman for NC DHHS provided the following statement along with the first batches of records responsive to our request:
A number of inspection records are readily available online including licensed adult care homes and licensed child care facilities. Posting these facilities' inspection records online is required by statute. Facilities that are unlicensed, and therefore unregulated, are not included on these sites. There is no requirement to post mental health, substance use or intellectual/developmental disability facilities inspections and reports online. However, a searchable document found here: https://www2.ncdhhs.gov/dhsr/mhlcs/facilities.html, allows users to sort facilities by program and location. Family members are welcome to request information about these facilities from the Division of Health Service Regulation and we are happy to provide it.
Family members can also search for facilities with pending or active penalties against them in a database maintained by NC DHHS.
To date, NC DHHS has yet to provide all responsive records to our request. Once all of the records are provided, On Your Side Investigates will review them and make them accessible to the public.