CLEVELAND - Hundreds of service providers for Ohio's developmentally disabled routinely ignore basic health and safety regulations but rarely have certifications revoked by state regulators.
An exclusive 5 On Your Side Investigation found that, of 1,587 compliance reviews of service providers performed by the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, 600 failed to follow state regulations.
Yet, only 28 had their certifications revoked statewide.
According to statistics provided by the state, 95 percent of providers continue to operate despite violating regulations aimed at safeguarding the state's 90,000 people with developmental disabilities.
For example, Shelby's Guardian Angels in Stark County was found by state investigators to have a "serious pattern of non-compliance" over two years before its certification was revoked.
Even so, under state law, it remains open while the case is being appealed.
Claudia Curtis, who operates the agency, is contesting the state's findings of non-compliance.
"I don't agree with the findings," said Curtis, "because a lot of that was a witch hunt - I think they are out to get us."
Evant, Inc. in Summit County is another example.
Its certification was suspended by state regulators in March 2012.
Documents obtained in our exclusive investigation indicated that, at homes operated by Evant, three people with disabilities died within a five-month period.
Tammy Evert, 54, lived in an Evant home in Akron where her brother believes symptoms of life-threatening pneumonia were ignored.
"Them not calling for help until the next morning," argues Evert. "It was pretty much too late by the time they finally got her to the hospital."
Tammy Evert died from aspiration pneunomia and state regulators found allegations of neglect "were substantiated."
In addition, investigators also found documents related to the investigation into Evert's death "were shredded."
A second death occurred two weeks later at another Evant home.
In this case, investigators found staff "failed to call 911" until a woman began "vomiting like a fire hydrant."
A third death at another Evant home included a disabled man whose body "was found in a bathtub" after being "left alone" by a caregiver.
Even so, Ohio's Department of Developmental Disabilities - the state agency that's supposed to protect the disabled in Ohio - restored Evant's certification within four months.
In July 2012, state regulators ruled "proper care" was being provided.
Evant declined comment, citing two pending lawsuits.
Michael Kirkman is Executive Director of Disability Rights Ohio, the state's largest advocacy group for the disabled.
He says providers realize there are few serious consequences when they fail to follow health and safety regulations.
"I think they count on it," said Kirkman.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities declined an on-camera interview request to explain how decisions are made regarding provider certification.
Coming up on NewsChannel5 at 6, we'll reveal how Ohio keeps inspections and compliance reports out of public view, leaving families in the dark.
Plus, our exclusive investigation is generating nationwide calls for reform.