Hilltop House scrutinized after death of resident
By Candace Sipos -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Hilltop House Administrator Scott Smith has been getting a lot of questions lately, but many of them he says he can't answer yet.
"It's not appropriate for me to be the one releasing information," he said about the pending investigation of the assisted living facility at 111 Denny Lane in the city.
Hilltop House has been under investigation ever since one of the residents, Young-Ja Park Kim, 74, died after wandering into the path of a vehicle on Berryville Pike just west of Blossom Drive, according to state police spokesman Sgt. F.L. "Les" Tyler.
Kim was hit by a 2005 Chevrolet Silverado around 1:15 a.m. Monday as she walked down the road, he said. She died as a result of injuries from the collision, Tyler said. The incident occurred near Hilltop House.
"It's just a tragic accident," Smith said. "We're stunned right now, and you know, hurting inside, you know, for the family. Of course, we're carrying on."
Smith would not comment on any specifics related to the incident, but said that the facility was not understaffed the night that it happened. He wants the results of the investigation to inform the public, and they will come about "in a few days," he said.
"That's the appropriate way for it to be released, not from me," he said. "I don't want to get myself in trouble. It'll all be public information."
Brent Kennedy, associate director of operations for the division of licensing programs in the Virginia Department of Social Services, said that someone or a team of people from the department and Adult Protective Services will start investigating a facility within five days "if it's a serious allegation."
A Hilltop House representative reported Kim's death to the department shortly after the incident, according to Eileen Guertler, director of public affairs for the agency.
The department tries to bring multiple people out for such serious allegations, including ones that could potentially reveal abuse or neglect of residents, Kennedy said. Also, Social Services will usually team with adult protective services in such cases.
Kennedy said he cannot talk about specifics of any ongoing investigations.
Virginia law recently changed to require an inspection of assisted living facilities only once per year. It used to be twice per year, he said, but added that the department must inspect a facility anytime a complaint is received and follow up if the facility is found to have a moderate risk rating. All of those inspections are unannounced, he noted.
The department usually closes any investigation prompted by a complaint within 60 days of receipt of that complaint, he said.
"If we were to find serious or systematic violations, then we can recommend negative action," which includes a penalty of up to $10,000, probationary status, limiting the number of residents allowed at the facility or revoking or denying a license, he said.
If the department issues a notice to deny or revoke a license, management has 15 days to appeal. In extreme cases in which officials believe that residents are in danger, they can seek an injunction, which could cause the closure of a facility quicker than the regular method, according to Kennedy.
"A general misunderstanding is that we can easily close a facility, but there are processes involved -- there are rights," he said.
According to online documents on the state department's website, Hilltop House has received three complaints since it opened, including one Jan. 9. The actual complaint is not available online because the investigation found no violations.
On Jan. 7, 2010, the facility was investigated because officials received a complaint that workers were administering medicine to a resident without her consent, but the complaint was found to be invalid.
On Nov. 10, 2009, department officials investigated the facility on a complaint with three charges -- "inadequate staffing, lack of staff assistance with resident bathing, and lack of staff training in the use of oxygen equipment," according to online records. The last was the only one found to be valid.