OLYMPIA – Months after social service caseworkers quietly shut down a Spokane adult family home for reportedly neglecting and abusing residents, state health officials have revoked the owner’s nursing-assistant credentials and barred her from reapplying for 20 years.
Misty D. Downing, 32, “repeatedly physically, mentally and verbally abused residents,” the Department of Social and Health Services concluded, saying it believed allegations of “physical restraint, inappropriate isolation and verbal assault” at the home.
Among those allegations: Downing taped one resident to a chair and taped her mouth shut, and punished another woman with “freezing cold” baths.
“I just don’t think she understood the concept of how you’re supposed to treat residents, what rights they have,” said Shirlee Steiner, Northeastern Washington’s regional administrator for the state Division of Residential Care Services.
The allegations are contained in hundreds of pages of records released in the past few days by the Department of Social and Health Services and Department of Health in response to Spokesman-Review records requests. The documents show a two-year pattern of anonymous complaints about the home, followed by confrontations between Downing and state investigators. Downing – who could not be reached for comment – called it harassment, telling officials that she didn’t have time for bureaucrats and their “liberal stuff.”
“This is so wasting my time typing this, but I want you to feel just slightly convicted (sic) about the fact that you are digging to find crap that isn’t even there,” she wrote in one fax to the state. “So come at me with all you got, God is bigger than you!”
Located at 11117 N. Astor Road, the Downing Adult Family Home – Downing called it a ministry – opened in August 2004. With help from her husband and a third caregiver – both of whom worked outside the home – Downing was responsible for caring for five developmentally disabled residents around the clock. They would help the residents with medication, meal preparation, bathing, dressing and transportation. The state paid $1,235 to $2,025 a month per person last November. Typically, much of a resident’s $500 to $600 federal monthly check also goes to such facilities.
Within months, state investigators received their first complaint: Downing had improperly left a resident alone. They couldn’t verify that.
Some other checks turned up no problems at the home. After another anonymous call about Downing “screaming, yelling and shouting” during a phone call about a resident’s finances, the residents all said things were fine.
“We are loved at that home,” one said. But the records show that investigators – based largely on allegations of complainants from outside the home – came to believe residents were too scared to talk openly.
By 2005, according to the records, Downing and her husband, Troy, had adopted an 18-month-old. That October, the couple filed a bankruptcy petition in federal court with the couple’s debts listed at nearly $334,000.
In her notes to DSHS, Downing sounded exhausted and overwhelmed, at one point saying that she “is human and had the last straw.”
“The sewer pump broke, the sprinkler system broke, and oh boy does the list go on,” she wrote. “I will not cower down as though I am a despicable person because I had one overwhelming day.”
One 2005 complaint involved a 46-year-old blind, developmentally disabled woman who had lived with her parents most of her life. Shortly after her father died, the woman – who would sometimes scream or cry spontaneously – moved into Downing’s home.
Downing, according to investigator Linda Harrison’s notes, described the grieving woman as “psycho” and her incontinence as “disgusting.”
A favorite toy – a 4-foot-tall stuffed Barney doll given to the woman as a gift – went missing shortly after Downing allegedly called the woman’s family and asked if she could give it away. Downing told Harrison she had nothing to do with it.
When a person bit the same woman on the arm at an adult day program, a staffer there reportedly called Downing to convey concern about possible HIV or hepatitis infection. Downing’s reaction, the staffer later told investigators, was that the victim had probably experienced “worse things” in her life. There was no evidence of any medical follow-up. Downing denied ever being told about any bite. The woman moved out after 2 1/2 months.
In August 2005, the state ordered her to replace the missing Barney. In October of that year, she was ordered to have an additional staffer on duty. In January 2006, she and her staff were told to undergo training “regarding residents’ rights.”
The final complaints came shortly before Thanksgiving 2006. A “credible anonymous contact” familiar with the home said she’d seen Downing push two residents up against the wall, yelling and cursing at them. She also said a former resident had been taped to a chair and had her mouth taped shut. She said Downing had forced a reluctant resident to drink a glass of water to the point that the person was coughing and choking.
Based on interviews, similar past complaints and the caller, state investigators concluded that Downing had abused six residents. Deciding that the residents were “in imminent danger,” the state yanked her adult family home license in December. The four residents were relocated to other homes.
Normally, DSHS announces such actions. For reasons state officials cannot explain, that didn’t happen in this case.
“I’m not sure what happened,” said Steiner. “This isn’t anything we want to hide.”
In late June, the Department of Health revoked Downing’s nursing-assistant license, based on the abuse findings by DSHS. Downing didn’t contest the revocation but wrote that she was innocent on one of the forms. She says she “relinquished” her license, due partly to “a lack of desire to battle against the allegations” of a developmentally disabled resident.
In the same late-May note, Downing said that since December she has worked for a home remodeling company.
Under state law, she could re-apply to become an adult family home provider after five years. But Steiner said such applications are subject to strict screening, including checks for past problems.
“In all likelihood,” Steiner said, “this probably wouldn’t be approved.”