Published: 11:00, 02 April 2021
| Updated: 11:02, 02 April 2021
A care home has been plunged into special measures after a damning inspection found residents were at risk of abuse and physical harm.
A catalogue of worrying evidence was gathered by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) during a visit to Heron House in Sweechbridge Road, Herne Bay.
So serious were its findings that residents are set to be moved elsewhere after it was ruled they were “not safe and at risk of avoidable harm”.
The home’s operators - Optima Care - this week confirmed some staff members have also been suspended pending a “full and independent investigation”.
It follows the CQC inspection on February 22, which concluded that Heron House employees were undertrained and that some residents “were subjected to abuse and had been physically harmed”, primarily at the hands of other users of the service.
One resident told inspectors they felt bullied by carers at the home, which looks after people who need support with their mental health or learning disabilities.
It was also discovered that police had been called to the home on January 14 to reports of an alleged assault – which bosses did not report to the CQC or Kent County Council.
The watchdog has subsequently rated the service inadequate – the lowest grading available.
“People were subject to abuse and had been physically harmed...." - CQC report
The report says: “Following this inspection, we worked closely with the local authority, KCC, to ensure people were safeguarded from ongoing harm.
“One person was supported to move out of Heron House, and alternative placements are being sought for all service users.
“People were at risk of harm from themselves and each other. When incidents occurred, there was a lack of oversight from the provider, which led to further incidents.
“People were subject to abuse and had been physically harmed. The provider had failed to take action to review people’s welfare and inform the relevant stakeholders.”
The report adds that “serious physical incidents between residents and staff” had occurred in December and January.
Inspectors found Heron House, which can look after up to six residents, had failed to report incidents to KCC or the CQC.
“One person raised concerns about feeling bullied by staff; no further action was taken to address this concern..." - CQC report
One person had bruising noted on a body map. An investigation by the previous manager stated the person bumped into things when they walked, but staff told inspectors this was not the case.
No further investigation had been completed.
The six-bed care home was found to have “widespread and significant shortfalls in service leadership”, having had nine different managers since June 2018.
“One person raised concerns they were sad and uncomfortable in their own home,” the document added. “These concerns were not reported, or action taken to address them.
“One person raised concerns about feeling bullied by staff; no further action was taken to address this concern.
“People were not spoken to in a respectful, dignified way. For example, following incidents people were told to go to their bedrooms.
“The provider had not sought support from healthcare professionals when people needed specialist support. This placed people at significant risk of harm.”
Police have confirmed they were called to the home following an alleged assault in January.
They say no injuries were reported and the incident was dealt with by way of a community resolution, which was agreed to by both parties.
The inspection’s findings prompted the CQC to place the home in special measures, which means the watchdog will attempt to stop the provider from running the service if it does not improve over the next six months.
Heron House is the second Optima Care-run service in Herne Bay to be rated inadequate in recent months, after 37 Spenser Road was given the same score in November.
A report published by CQC this week says bosses from 37 Spenser Road have not addressed the concerns raised four months ago.
“Staff were not always raising concerns about neglect and abuse,” it reads.
“The local authority were not always being informed when safeguarding incidents occurred. People’s medicines were not always being managed in a safe way.
“There was an insufficient number of staff deployed to ensure that people received their care when needed.”
Inspectors “found people were not and had been harmed” at the Spenser Road site - despite residents insisting they felt safe at the care home.
A member of staff witnessed a colleague restraining an individual – even though carers had been told they should not restrain clients.
The kitchen and bathroom were also locked when the home’s workers were not present, which meant “people were not able to access these rooms without asking”.
It was also found that staff “were not always familiar with what constituted abuse or what they needed to do if they suspected someone was being abused”.
The report continues: “We identified a number of incidents when there had been physical abuse from one person to another.”
In all, Optima runs nine care homes across Kent – five of which have been rated inadequate.
The others are Gate House and Eastry Villa's in Sandwich, and Shine Supported Living - South East, in Herne Bay.
Two more of them have also been placed in the next-worst banding - requires improvement.
Optima Care says urgent action is being taken to address the CQC’s findings.
Chief executive Eddie Coombes said: “The CQC report has raised a number of concerns and we have taken urgent steps to ensure our services run at the standard we expect.
“We have suspended staff involved, pending a full and independent investigation, and we will finalise the outcome of that review shortly. We have also installed an interim manager.
“The recent CQC reports have highlighted a breakdown of leadership at service level impacting a number of our homes in Kent.
“Most of our care homes in Kent were rated ‘Good’ on their previous inspections by CQC and we are disappointed in some of the assessments made in these homes.
“Nevertheless, we are undertaking a thorough review of our services in Kent and have already started to implement some of the recommendations made.
“In addition to our own investigation, we have also started to implement the changes requested by CQC.
“For example, staff have undertaken additional training and we are working with experts to enhance the services we provide, including positive behaviour support. We are also in the process of recruiting new managers for homes in Kent rated ‘Inadequate’ by CQC.
“The pressure of the pandemic has been telling and we firmly believe the reports are not reflective of the care we are committed to providing residents.”