Former S.C. Dept. of Disabilities and Special Needs director responds to sudden firing

Former S.C. Dept. of Disabilities and Special Needs director responds to sudden firing
Mary Poole, the state director of the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, was suddenly removed from her position on Thursday afternoon. (Source: SC.gov)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Less than 24 hours after being fired, the former state director of the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs says she did not do anything wrong.

“I served in my position as the state director [of] SCDDSN at the will of the commission,” Mary Poole said in part in a statement. “I was not given an opportunity to discuss their concerns that led to this decision.”

Poole was removed from her position by the agency’s commission in a 5-1 vote after a roughly three-hour executive session on Thursday afternoon. A reason for Poole’s sudden removal was not discussed during the public portion of the meeting and Poole has not yet announced why she was told that she was being fired.

“I opted to be released from employment rather than resign,” Poole said. “I do want to say that over my 30 years in this field I have always worked diligently for individuals with intellectual disabilities in the state and I have done so with honesty, integrity and a deep respect for those I have supported in any of the positions I have held - from direct support to agency head.”

Commissioners also voted to implement a temporary hiring freeze at the agency, which operates facilities such as the Coastal Regional Center in Dorchester County and coordinates with county disabilities and special needs boards throughout the state.

The Coastal Regional Center was the subject of COVID-19 and staffing concerns last year. More than 130 residents and employees of the facility tested positive for the virus between the beginning of the pandemic and December 2020. There were also reports of two coronavirus-related deaths of residents

One of the commissioners who voted in favor of Poole’s removal was Barry Malphrus, whose district includes the Coastal Regional Center. Malphrus declined to comment when reached by phone on Friday afternoon.

During Thursday’s meeting, prior to the executive session, Poole presented her previously scheduled state director’s report to commissioners.

Poole’s report involved matters such as an ongoing federal audit. She told commissioners that the audit involves reports from DDSN providers of critical incidents, abuse, and neglect along with emergency room visits. Poole also stated that she was informed about this audit roughly six months after she began as state director and that “apparently it had started prior to my being here.”

Poole’s presentation did not give any indication that it would be her final one as a DDSN employee.

“We’ll be sending that out next week,” Poole said during the meeting in regard to an upcoming communication about a new two-factor authentication security system, adding, “I don’t like to send out really big memos on Fridays.”

However, on Friday morning, Poole was no longer with DDSN, having been replaced in the interim by General Counsel Constance Holloway.

“I leave this particular position with my honesty and integrity intact and my head held high,” Poole said. “I am proud of what my team was able to accomplish during my 29 months as the agency head. We found and corrected many long-standing and significant issues within the agency and provider network. My only regret is that these efforts were cut short with so much work left to be done. I will continue to be a vocal advocate for quality supports and services in the state for those with disabilities.”

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