Governor’s Office Orders Independent Audit of DHS in Woman’s Death

The Oregon Department of Human Services is facing another examination of its policies and practices – this time following the death of an elderly woman with dementia who wandered away from a long-term care facility and died outside alone on a winter day.

Ki Soon Hyun’s body was found in the woods on Christmas day.

An investigation by Oregon’s long-term care ombudsman faulted the agency in her death and recommended in April an audit of DHS. Two months later, an official with Gov. Tina Kotek’s office said the governor had ordered an external audit of DHS’ oversight practices.

DHS oversees 2,070 nursing homes, long-term care facilities and adult care homes, which care for thousands of vulnerable Oregonians. It is supposed to ensure their safety by licensing facilities, tracking complaints and issuing sanctions up to closing facilities. But DHS and the facility that was supposed to keep her safe failed Hyun, officials said.

She moved into Mount Hood Senior Living two days before her death.

“Mt. Hood Senior Living failed on multiple fronts to properly care for Ki Soon Hyun and the rest of the residents in the facility,” said Walter Dawson, chair of the Governor’s Commission on Senior Services, in an April letter to the governor’s office.

He added that DHS ignored red flags pointing to problems at the agency and the threat that people at Mount Hood faced by allowing “an owner with no background or knowledge of long-term care to open a state-licensed memory care facility.”

Two months later, Kotek’s adviser on seniors, Rachel Currans-Henry, informed Dawson in a letter that the office had ordered the audit to protect residents.

DHS is also under pressure to improve its foster care system to keep vulnerable children safe. In May, the agency settled a long-running lawsuit over the mistreatment of foster children. It agreed to improve the system by working with an outside expert to improve its oversight. The agency agreed late last month to work with Kevin Ryan, who has helped Texas, Michigan and Oklahoma to improve their foster care systems.

DHS expects to work with Ryan for a decade or more. The external audit of its oversight of long-term care facilities is likely to be finished well before then, though the review is not yet started.

“Plans to bring in a consultant are in the very early stages, and no details have been determined on the selection process for a contractor at this time,” DHS spokeswoman Elisa Williams told the Capital Chronicle.

She said the agency “is looking forward to the process” and is committed to improving its systems.

She declined to comment on any policy changes that would improve DHS’ oversight of long-term care facilities, citing pending litigation.

Hyun’s family has filed a $17 million wrongful death suit against Mount Hood Senior Living and the Department of Human Services. The family welcomed the audit.

“Our family applauds Governor Kotek for ordering an audit of the Oregon Department of Human Services,” the family said in a statement to the Capital Chronicle. “It is a travesty that the tragic death of our mother had to be the impetus for DHS to try to get their act together. We fully support the development of policy remedies that hopefully can keep our painful loss from happening to any other families in Oregon. All elderly Oregonians deserve care overseen by competent and fully trained providers in safe and secure facilities.”

by Lynne Terry, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Do you have a story for The Advocate? Email