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Judge grants temporary injunction for Rowan Homes Health care provider hopes to stop takeover of group homes

By Kathy Chaffin

Salisbury Post

A Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction Tuesday allowing Rowan Homes two weeks to fight Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare’s decision to award a contract for its six group homes to another provider.

Judge Kimberly Taylor granted the two-week injunction at the request of Rowan Homes’ attorney, Richard “Dick” Huffman. Plaintiffs in the complaint are 28 developmentally disabled adults served by Rowan Homes.

A hearing on whether Rowan Homes will be granted a permanent injunction to pursue litigation in the matter is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Feb. 12.

Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare awarded the contract for management of the six group homes to Cabarrus Group Homes Inc. earlier this month after a long dispute over money resulted in Rowan Homes board’s refusal to sign its contract for the 2006-2007 fiscal year.

The contract with Cabarrus Group Homes had been scheduled to take effect on Thursday, but Rowan Homes, which has managed the group homes for 31 years, will continue to manage them pending the results of the next hearing.

Huffman said Taylor had presided over a trial for the past week and a half and had not had time to review all of the documents provided by Rowan Homes and Piedmont Behavioral prior to the hearing. She requested more information from both parties Tuesday, including the thoughts and feelings of the 33 developmentally disabled residents of Rowan Homes and their family members.

One of the concerns raised in the complaint, Huffman said, is that the residents’ “wishes and thoughts had not been considered whatsoever in Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare’s decision to close down Rowan Homes.”

The reason five of the residents were not listed as plaintiffs, he said, is due to their guardians living out of town. “I wanted … confirmation that they wanted to do it, not just a verbal one, and we just did not have time,” he said.

Huffman filed the request for a temporary injunction on Friday.

Michael Taylor, attorney for Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare, declined comment on the hearing, saying it is his practice not to comment on ongoing litigation. Stephan Tomlinson, public relations director for the mental health agency, also declined comment.

Jay Laurens, executive director for Rowan Homes, said he thought the hearing went well.

“I felt the judge did a very good job of listening to both sides and reviewing the information on rather short notice,” he said. “We’re pleased to have the opportunity to share additional information with the judge.”

About 30 representatives of Rowan Homes, including board members, staff, residents and residents’ family members attended the hearing. Huffman said the delegation seemed to be pleased with the judge’s ruling.

When he walked out of the courtroom, he said, “They all gave a round of applause. They all seemed to be very, very happy.”

Representing Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare at the hearing, in addition to Michael Taylor, were Deputy Area Director Pam Shipman and Cynthia Benjamin, developmental disabilities provider relations manager.

Huffman said Judge Taylor will rule at the Feb. 12 hearing if the injunction will be continued indefinitely pending Rowan Homes’ civil suit against Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare. It could take a year or longer for the case to go to trial.

“Our hope is … that we can get everything resolved between now and then,” he said. “We’re not trying to pick a fight. We hope there won’t even be a need for a hearing on the 12th.”

On his way out of the courtroom, Huffman said he mentioned to Michael Taylor that Rowan Homes officials would like to meet with Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare officials and try to come to an agreement. “He just indicated that he would have to talk to his clients,” he said.

Laurens said he would also like to see the matter resolved outside of the courtroom.

“I do know that the judge at least mentioned the concept of mediation,” he said. “I don’t know whether she recommended that, but I think if both parties were interested and willing, that that would certainly be a possibility.”

Rowan Homes officials had asked for $51.05 per resident per day for its 33 residents. Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare increased its funding from $41.05, the rate paid to other group homes in its five-county service area, to the requested $51.05 rate for six months during the 2005-2006 budget year, then dropped it back to the earlier rate midyear.

Huffman said it has been gratifying to represent the residents of Rowan Homes. “I think we have done a poor job as a society in maybe labeling people,” he said. “Those residents at Rowan Homes are not that different from you and me. They just have some difficulties and need help handling their affairs.

“They have very strong opinions and thoughts about their care, and they have let me know that they are very happy and very pleased and very appreciative of what Rowan Homes has done for them over the years.”

Family members of residents are also rallying around the efforts to keep Rowan Homes as the provider of the six group homes. Parents of residents voiced strong opposition to Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare’s plans to interview for another provider at a Dec. 18 meeting with Shipman and Benjamin.

One parent told Huffman that she had called and written and e-mailed requesting information about the change in providers, but had still not received any official notification. For family members who love the Rowan Homes residents, he said it’s upsetting to not be able to obtain any information or to even be consulted about their wishes.

Cindee Bridges was one of the parents at Tuesday’s hearing. “I’m real happy,” she said. “I think we’re on a good track.”

Her impression was that the residents’ rights played a big factor in Judge Taylor’s decision. Bridges said she believed residents’ rights were violated because they were not given a choice as to who their provider would be. “They wanted to keep Rowan Homes as their provider,” she said, “and they still do.

“I as a parent am fighting,” she said. “I’ll fight to the end to keep Rowan Homes as my son’s provider. If we had not gotten the injunction today, I was planning on going to Raleigh tomorrow.”

Bridges’ son has been a resident at Shamrock Group Home on Shamrock Drive behind Salisbury Academy for four and a half years. His developmental disabilities stem from traumatic brain injury due to a brain tumor diagnosed when he was 14 months old.

He’s had three major surgeries through the years, one at age 14 months, one at 12 and one at 16. He’s also had extensive radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

“It took me 21 years to place my son in a group home where I felt like if anything happened to me that he would be taken care of and I wouldn’t have to worry,” Bridges said. “At Rowan Homes, I felt that.”

With Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare’s decision to contract with a new provider, “now I worry,” she said.

Bridges said she and another parent, Debbie Martin, have been writing and e-mailing people, including state legislators and Geraldo, asking for help since the Dec. 18 meeting. “I haven’t slept since Dec. 18, and my Christmas was totally ruined,” she said. “They timed it perfectly. They have no feeling for these residents.”

She’s not only fighting for her son, Bridges said. “I’m doing it for the residents who have no families. Rowan Homes is their family.”

Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost.com.

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