Advocates for people with disabilities say KC abuse case isn’t uncommon, but should serve as a lesson

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A Kansas City woman is charged with abusing a mentally ill patient. The case is disturbing, but also offers valuable lessons about what you should consider before finding a caregiver for a loved one.

Rachelle Pinkins is out of jail on bond, facing two counts of abusing a disabled person. But those who work with the disabled say sadly, this kind of case is not uncommon.

"Anybody who has a inkling of suspicion should check it out. They need to check with the person if they can, and certainly report to the state so they can check it out from that side," said Julie DeJean, chief executive officer for The Whole Person.

Thankfully that is what happened with Pinkins. She'd been working for a company called Preferred Family Health Care, and one of her patients was a 21-year-old woman with autism, schizophrenia and seizures. Other staff members who worked with the same patient, known as ARS, noticed visible changes after Rachelle Pinkins began working with her, noting she seemed "more reserved and depressed".

As mandated reporters, healthcare workers are supposed to tell the state about those concerns, which did happen in this case.

"We look to see, are there bruises? Is the person quieter than Saul? Are they not as emotional and less interactive?" DeJean said.

Because of those concerns, Preferred Family Health Care staff met with patient ARS, who left the meeting with Rachelle Pinkins. The other staff were worried and decided to follow Pinkins, who took the patient to Swope Park.

Court records say they witnessed ARS in a group of 20-30 people and "saw people consuming marijuana and alcohol--including Pinkins". They took her to the hospital for drug testing, and that's when the patient disclosed that back in May, she was left alone in the park and sexually assaulted by a friend of Pinkins at the park. She alleged a woman gave her a drink, then the man asked her to dance. When she declined, he took her into a port-a-potty, masturbated, then ARS "woke up with her pants down".

Advocates for the disabled say cases like this are a big reminder of why it is so critical to thoroughly vet an agency before allowing them to care for your loved one.

"I think you have to feel the trust in yourself to know you've done everything you could to find the right caregiver, and you can't go too far to ensure that happens," DeJean said.

Pinkins has bonded out of jail, and told investigators she never left the patient alone, but did admit to taking her on personal errands, including trips to the salon and Swope Park.

Advocates say if you suspect someone you know is being abused, don't hesitate to call the state's hotline at (800) 392-0210.