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State auditors plan investigation of SC disabilities department

Published: Jun. 17, 2021 at 4:33 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 17, 2021 at 6:51 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - State auditors will soon be looking into the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.

The South Carolina Legislative Audit Council has approved a request by five state senators to investigate DDSN, which operates facilities like the Coastal Regional Center in Summerville in order to serve people with disabilities.

“Several members of the Senate have received complaints regarding the management and operations of the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs,” the legislators’ request said, adding that they are seeking an audit of matters at DDSN ranging from employment policies and practices to compliance with state and federal laws.

Employees of the Coastal Regional Center reached out to Live 5 Investigates last year over concerns related to low pay, long hours, and potential COVID-19 exposure on the job.

“We’ve seen reports about the sexual abuse in the facilities. We’ve seen the reports about the HR issues. We have been following it in the news,” Senator Katrina Shealy said. “We don’t want those kind of issues going on. We want the state employees to want to go to work.”

One Lowcountry lawmaker, Senator Tom Davis from Beaufort, signed the request and also supports a plan to make agencies such as DDSN directly accountable to the governor.

“The Senate feels a special sense of obligation given the sense of structure of that organization and given the vulnerable population that DDSN serves,” Davis said. “It did seem to me an appropriate time look under the hood. Let’s see what’s going on and have the right information. Not only to cast blame but also to say- this person isn’t to blame. It’s not a witch hunt. It’s more a sense of how well this agency is functioning. If it isn’t functioning well, in which areas isn’t it? And how can we correct it?”

“It’s another opportunity for us to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves and if we don’t go in there and do that, then it’s our fault for not making sure we have a person in there that has a heart for those people,” Shealy said.

A commission made up of members selected by the governor currently oversees DDSN. In February, DDSN State Director Mary Poole was fired by the commission in what initially appeared to be a sudden decision. Documents later obtained by Live 5 Investigates showed that Poole’s termination was planned ahead of time in a file that was shared with at least four of the agency’s six commissioners.

With work on the audit expected to begin over the next month, DDSN spokesperson Robert McBurney said that the agency welcomes any outside input.

“The current leadership at DDSN understands that we have many items to improve in our agency and our service delivery system [and] we are working extremely hard to achieve those goals,” McBurney said. “We thank Senator Shealy and her fellow Senators for the help and support they have lent to DDSN as we continue to work to improve our service delivery for our state’s most vulnerable citizens.”

DDSN planned seven listening sessions throughout June to gather public input on future spending.

The local listening session will be June 21 at 3:00 p.m. at 1357 Remount Road in North Charleston.

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