11 Things You Need To Know About Our Investigation Into KKR, BrightSpring, And 600 Homes For People With Disabilities
BrightSpring Health Services, which KKR bought in 2019, says it helps thousands of people with disabilities “live their best lives.” But some residents suffered neglect, abuse, or death. A BuzzFeed News investigation.
1. When the private equity giant KKR bought BrightSpring, a company that runs more than 600 group homes for people with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities, it assumed responsibility for thousands of profoundly vulnerable people — people who, in some cases, cannot speak, wash themselves, or feed themselves.
2. A BuzzFeed News investigation found that KKR focused on expanding the business even as a crisis mounted in its group home division, where conditions grew so dire that nurses and caretakers quit in droves, a state prohibited the company from accepting new residents, and some of the most vulnerable people in its care suffered and died.
3. One man wandered off, and no one noticed; he was hit by a car going 45 miles per hour. A resident who was left unattended drank antifreeze; he did not receive medical care for at least nine hours. Another choked to death while inadequately trained staff members called their supervisor instead of 911. People were given the wrong medicine or no medicine at all. And a woman who didn’t speak was pinned to her bed with a makeshift restraint and left alone and struggling. After multiple injuries, she died.
4. All told, from when KKR took over BrightSpring in March 2019 through the end of 2021, its “intermediate care facilities” were cited for dangerous conditions at a rate well above the average for such facilities, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by BuzzFeed News. In the seven states with the most for-profit facilities, KKR owns only 16% of the homes but racked up 40% of the serious citations.
5. Perry McAfee, a manager who oversaw about 60 homes around Houston, said the company “was not focused on quality of services, but on the revenue generated each month. I’m not saying that’s not important. But that was the sole focus.”
6. Managers pleaded with executives that they couldn’t keep the homes safely staffed on what BrightSpring was willing to pay. “If you pay $7.50 an hour, you’re not going to get a lot of people when they can go to Walmart and make $10,” McAfee said. Several times, state inspectors showed up to homes and found residents left totally alone, with no staff at all.
7. The staffing shortage was compounded by inadequate training, which left many workers unprepared to care for clients. Managers at the company finally conducted training on how to care for the woman who was pinned to her bed. It was 16 days after her death.
8. Some managers resorted to keeping people on shift for three days straight or threatening them with arrest if they tried to go home. And staff members who did outrageous things — like pulling a gun on a client’s family member — were not immediately dismissed.
9. Some nurses quit because they feared that working for the company amid such conditions might cost them their licenses, according to internal company emails. The nurses said some clients could die.
10. Local managers said BrightSpring executives pressured them to keep accepting new residents — even when there weren’t enough staff on hand to care for them.
11. Meanwhile, KKR’s hand-chosen board of directors approved a plan to take on extensive debt, which funded a billion-dollar buying spree to acquire more companies. BrightSpring was left to pay more than $135 million in interest a year on the loans. That money might otherwise have helped improve conditions in the homes.
The companies did not agree to meet with reporters to discuss these issues on the record.
Instead, KKR issued a statement saying, “We vehemently disagree with the grossly misleading narrative you presented.” BrightSpring sent a similar statement calling BuzzFeed News’ findings “inaccurate, misleading, and fundamentally flawed.” It said the data analysis was unsound because the underlying government records were unreliable and were collected during a pandemic. Four leading academic experts consulted by reporters said BuzzFeed News’ methodology was sound.
A KKR spokesperson told BuzzFeed News it had invested $200 million per year in “quality first initiatives” at BrightSpring and increased total compensation to frontline workers by 28% since 2019. “Over 99.99% of care hours are completely incident-free,” said Leigh White, a BrightSpring spokesperson, and the company has "achieved 98% medication administration documentation compliance."
Touting its financial success and BrightSpring’s mission to “help people live their best lives,” KKR has announced plans to take the company public. That development could yield windfall returns for investors and executives.