A resident of the Brenham State Supported Living Center who was found dead in the back of a van parked at the facility may have died from heat exposure, officials said.
According to Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, staff of the Brenham facility could not find the woman for several hours. Eventually, she was found in the back of the van that was parked on the center's campus. CPR was performed on the woman, who was taken to an area hospital where she was pronounced dead. Officials with the Health and Human Services Commission say she may have died from heat stroke or another heat-related illness, though the investigation is in its initial stages.
Washington County Justice of the Peace Doug Zwiener identified the resident as Amy Parrish. Her exact age is not available, but Zweiner said she was born in 1968, making her either 48 or 49. He said Parrish was severely mentally impaired.
"Our residents are like family to us, and this is a heartbreaking situation," Carrie Williams wrote in a public statement. "It appears it was a tragic accident, and our thoughts are with everyone who was close to her."
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As a result of Parrish's death, two employees at the center have been reassigned from direct-care roles to positions considered "non-contact." The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services are investigating what led to Parrish's death and are working with local law enforcement and the Office of the Inspector General.
"Our residents are supervised by staff, and roll calls are taken as they move from activity to activity," Williams wrote in an email to The Eagle. "We keep a schedule for the residents, and staff are responsible for making sure the schedule is followed."
Williams said residents are evaluated to determine what level of supervision is needed and are regularly evaluated to determine whether there are special risks.
"This is their home, and they are afforded a level of freedom based on their assessments," she wrote. "We keep a low staff-to-patient ratio, and we train staff on resident safety, monitoring, roll calls, vehicle safety and other issues."
Williams said 264 people live as residents at the center, which is a state-sponsored facility for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. According to the Brenham SSLC Volunteer Services Council, the campus is 200 acres and opened in 1974.
Clifford Jones of Conroe placed his 33-year-old son, Caleb, at the facility eight years ago.
"I have a generally favorable opinion of [the Brenham State Supported Living Center]," Jones said. "They do seem to have a hard time keeping staff on, and they switch them around a lot."
Jones elaborated that since Caleb has lived at the Brenham facility, caretakers have rotated positions or changed careers more frequently than the Jones family would like. However, he said all of Caleb's caretakers are kind people who operate on a system that appears to work effectively.
"Caleb pretty much needs to be supervised 24/7," Jones said. "For someone to have been in a car for hours, something obviously went wrong."
Jones explained that Caleb, who lives with a low-functioning form of autism, resides by himself in a bedroom for two. The building that houses Caleb is divided into several wings with five to six bedrooms per wing, each room supporting two beds.
For the approximately one dozen residents of each wing -- at least in Caleb's situation -- Jones said there are two to three caretakers always on duty in the wing. Caleb can stay in his room unsupervised and walk to the wing's common area, but Jones said to his knowledge, the residents do not leave their wing to go outside unless they are supervised, often with a group.
It's unclear exactly how Parrish ended up in the van, or how many hours she was missing before staff finally located her. The center did not return requests for comment.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, the temperature in a vehicle can rise by 20 degrees in 10 minutes, even with cracked windows. Once a human body exceeds a temperature of 104 degrees, it can experience heat stroke. The sufferer may vomit, fall into rapid breathing, have a racing heart rate and throbbing headache. Eventually organ damage may occur, leading to death.
"Our top priority is resident safety, and we'll be looking closely at this situation to see if any policies need to be strengthened," Williams wrote to The Eagle.
Parrish's body is being sent to Travis County for autopsy.