Dwayne Walls had always been independent. From the time he left his childhood home in Morganton, North Carolina, to digging graves at night, to serving in the Air Force in Korea, to infiltrating the Klu Klux Klan as a reporter for the Charlotte Observer. Dwayne did it his way. And he didn’t back down even when a cross was burned in his yard.
He later would become an author and teacher and even a preacher, passing on his wisdom of the ages to the new generations of eager listeners. He met the love of his life, Judy Hand, in December of 1996 and they later settled in Charleston, South Carolina and enjoyed the laid back life the area brought, while he still taught and wrote as much as he could.
However, shortly thereafter, things started to turn. He became absentminded, often forgetting words that were just at the tip of his tongue, an especially frustrating malady for a writer. He attempted to write his memoirs - but the pages of eloquent writings that everyone had come to expect, were just pages and pages of disjointed thoughts.
In 2001 he was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and by 2004 the disease had thoroughly taken over. Dwayne soon became a shadow of his former self. He had become unreliable and combative in his personality. One day he would be sweet and talkative, regaling people with his life stories, and the next day annoyed and irritated with unpredictable behavior such as stripping off his clothing and running down the hall.
It finally came to the point where it was impossible for Judy to handle him by herself and she began the process of finding him a nursing home which accepted an Alzheimer’s patient. She finally found C.M. Tucker Jr. Nursing Care in Columbia, South Carolina - which is run by the state Department of Mental Health and which had a special unit for veterans.
Judy soon began to see that C.M. Tucker was not a good fit for Dwayne. He immediately started to lose weight. When they moved Dwayne to a new room, the Department of Mental Health placed a seriously psychotic patient in Dwayne’s old room. She begged the staff to keep an eye on Dwayne, whom she felt sure would try to go back to his old room. Her worst fears were soon realized when she received a call in the middle of the night. Dwayne had been severely beaten. His crime? He mistakenly returned to his old room.
Shortly thereafter the U.S. Department of Justice conducted an investigation of the facility. The Justice Department determined that “there appear[ed] to be no formal behavior program for residents diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, placing residents at heightened risk for the use of physical or chemical restraints to control behavior, and placing them at heightened risk of physical assault by other residents who may become frustrated at their repetitive speech or wandering.”
Judy was not even made aware of the investigation. However, she soon learned on her own of a new veteran’s facility opening in Walterboro, South Carolina, which had special units catering to people just like Dwayne.
After many telephone calls and long conversations, Judy secured a spot for Dwayne. In 2006 with the help of State and Federal funds, the Veterans’ Victory House opened its doors. In May of 2007, Dwayne was placed in a secure wing of the facility.
Judy saw an immediate difference in Dwayne’s attitude as he began to gain weight and he seemed calmer. The change was so remarkable that Judy wrote to Lt. Governor Andre Bauer, who runs South Carolina’s Office on Aging, complimenting and thanking the state for creating what she now called the “Angel House”.
Unfortunately, as often happens in Alzheimer’s patients, as the disease progresses, the patients become more severely agitated and combative. Dwayne was in ward that contained many other residents suffering from the same symptoms as he.
Over the next several months, Dwayne was pushed to the floor; was knocked to the ground after a scuffle between two other residents carried over to him; he was found in someone else’s bed with his fists poised ready to fight; and he was the aggressor on one occasion.
Then, one night in September of 2008, Judy received a call from the facility. They said that Dwayne had fallen and that he was being transported to the hospital. Judy called first thing the next morning to see how Dwayne was doing. She was told by the nurse that Dwayne had no broken bones and that he was resting well. Later that same afternoon, a social worker called Judy, who relayed that she needed to have a face-to-face meeting with her. Judy lived over an hour away and said she would be there as soon as she could, but probably wouldn’t make it by 5:00 which is when the social worker went home for the weekend. Judy was ensured that there was no immediate hurry but that she should come in the following Monday.
When she arrived at the nursing home she was devastated when she saw Dwayne. He was lying in bed covered in black and blue bruises, his body was swollen and he was on constant oxygen.
She immediately found a nurse who again relayed that he had fallen. She talked to several other employees throughout the day who also confirmed that he had fallen. Finally, towards the end of the day another employee stopped by and Judy again expressed her concern that he could not have suffered so greatly from just a fall. The employee looked confused and stated, “no one told you? He was beaten.”
On September 18, just 7 days after Dwayne was severely beaten, he died of pneumonia due to immobility. Although the nursing home records make it clear that he was in an altercation, the doctor’s notes do not even make it a contributing factor in his death. The autopsy report neglected to do the same - despite the fact that Colleton County Coroner, Richard Harvey specifically told Judy that the altercation contributed to Dwayne’s death.
His nursing home records also confirm that immediately prior to the altercation, Dwayne was not immobile and was walking around and social.
Shortly after Dwayne’s death, an ombudsman investigated the nursing home and concluded that the nursing home was deficient in the required staff required for the 52 person wing, only have one registered nurse on duty during the day and there were times that they had no registered nurse on duty during the evening. A state investigation by the Department of Health and Environmental Control concluded that the nursing home illegally failed to correctly report Dwayne’s condition, as is required by State law.
Thanks to the Charleston Post & Courier for reporting.
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