The owner of a 21-bed North Georgia senior care facility was arrested this week on an elder cruelty charge after the Dade County sheriff discovered a single staff member caring for nine residents in sweltering, 100-degree temperatures.

The air-conditioning system at Woodhaven Senior Living in Trenton hadn’t worked for two years, except for the area of the building where the owner’s office is located, the sheriff said during a press conference. The single staff member had been working for more than 30 hours straight, the sheriff’s office said.

“It was just, to me, a devastating scene to go in and see these elderly people suffering like this,” said Sheriff Ray Cross, who called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to what he said was a continuing investigation.

Kent Womack, 55, the facility owner, was booked into the county jail. The sheriff’s office said more charges are expected. The sheriff’s office evacuated the nine residents. Two went to the hospital, another went home with family and the others were sent to another senior care home.

“You got the owner down there in an air-conditioned office,” the sheriff said, “that’s what infuriates me.”

The sheriff said his office was called on Monday by a family member who reported that the owner announced all the residents were being evicted and had to be out of the facility within an hour. The residents are frail, disabled people between ages 61 and 97.

State inspectors from the Georgia Department of Community Health had found a long list of serious infractions at the home during a 2019 complaint investigation, but the home was allowed to remain open. The home reeked of urine, was understaffed and workers weren’t properly trained. Residents with dementia or serious illnesses that required constant assistance weren’t properly monitored or cared for in a home where a single staff member had to attend to 12 residents, Residents developed bedsores, wandered, or weren’t checked frequently. They remained in soiled clothes or even on the floor waiting for help due to the understaffing, the inspector noted.

State records show that a state inspector also checked out a complaint against the facility in May 2020 but did not cite the home for any rule violations. A spokeswoman would not reveal the nature of the 2020 complaint on Wednesday, saying the AJC would have to file a request under the Georgia Open Records Act to obtain information. She said the state had not received prior complaints or information about the lack of air conditioning for the residents. “We are now investigating these allegations,” she said.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation of Georgia’s senior care industry published in 2019 found that homes are often understaffed and workers routinely lack training. While the state passed a new slate of laws in response to the series, advocates say more needs to be done.

“It’s important to note that the problems with this home pre-date the pandemic and weren’t addressed two years ago,” said Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging. “If Georgians are horrified by this story, they need to let lawmakers know. GCOA has lobbied for improvements, but Georgians need to make better care for the elderly a priority.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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