State threatens to revoke Salisbury group home’s license

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
A Rowan County group home faces a $1,000 fine and revocation of its license after a state inspection found violations endangering the health, safety and welfare of its residents.
The Mental Health Licensure and Certification Section of the N.C. Division of Health Service Regulation notified One Love Developmental Services of Salisbury, which operates the Liberty Home at 3425 Cauble Road, of the action in two separate certified letters dated June 11.
Stephanie M. Alexander of the Mental Health Licensure and Certification Section sent a third letter on June 11 ordering One Love to suspend all admissions to the group home effective immediately. “The documented violations,” she said in the letter, “indicate that conditions in the facility are found to be detrimental to the health and safety of the clients.”
The Post became aware of the matter when 27-year-old Pierre Smith of Salisbury, a former employee of Liberty Home, called with concerns about unsanitary and potentially unsafe conditions at the group home. Smith, who now works for another mental health residential provider, said he also filed complaints with local and state officials.
One Love Developmental Services filed a petition July 1 for a contested case hearing challenging the state’s decision. Officials at the Klumac Road headquarters had no comment when contacted by the Post about the matter.
Attorneys William R. Forstner and Patricia A. Markus, who filed the petition on behalf of One Love officials, said the Liberty Home is for children and adolescents with serious mental or behavioral problems.
“Most, if not all, of its clients have had several encounters with the juvenile justice system,” the attorneys say in the appeal, “and often, Liberty Home is a caregiver of last resort. It accepts many youths who have exhibited antisocial or violent tendencies, and its staff work every day to improve its residents’ outlook on life and make them productive members of society.”
Forstner and Markus state that the May 19 inspection preceding the state disciplinary action was a follow-up to a Feb. 11 inspection and in response to a complaint.
“The Licensure Section found the complaint to be unsubstantiated,” they state in the petition, “but a small number of deficiencies were cited. Following this report, the Liberty Home developed a plan of correction for each deficiency.”
Pierre Smith, who said he was terminated from One Love Developmental Services after working two days at Liberty Home, said he believes his termination stemmed from his relating concerns about conditions at the group home to management. “I guess they figured ‘he’s going to be a problem, so get rid of him,’ ” he said.
When he went to work at the group home about two and a half months ago, Smith said there were three residents living there รณ a 13-year-old, 15-year-old and 17-year-old. The 13-year-old and 17-year-old were sleeping on mattresses on bed springs placed directly on the floor, he said, and the doors to their bedrooms were off the hinges.
The kitchen was extremely unsanitary, Smith said, with rotten eggs in the refrigerator and a box of Frosted Flakes turned over on its side on top with part of the cereal spilled out and a roach crawling through it. “I remember that very clearly,” he said.
Roaches were also present in the bathrooms, he said, where there were no soap dispensers or soap or other grooming products. Smith said there was mildew around the toilets and bathroom walls and green rings inside the toilet bowls.
Outside, he said, the trash can was overflowing, and there were about four more garbage bags on the ground beside it. Some of them had been torn open, he said.
“The kids were wild,” he said. “They were on the computer, the phone and they cursed staff out. …” Smith said the staff did not do anything to try to correct their behavior.
Upset by what he had witnessed, Smith said he talked with a staff member and home manager at Liberty Home about his concerns as well as a Human Resources employee in the One Love headquarters. When he was taken off the schedule after that, he said, “it felt like I was punished for trying to do what was right for the interest and the well-being of the children.”
He said he didn’t find out he was terminated until some time later when he called One Love headquarters to find out why he hadn’t been scheduled to work. Smith said he has more than 10 years of experience working with mentally ill and/or developmentally disabled people.
Attorneys for One Love, in the petition filed with the state, said the residential provider’s plan of correction addresses each deficiency cited in the inspection findings and includes its intent to develop plans with goals for residents and strategies to help them achieve those goals; provide monthly reports on residents’ progress toward meeting the goals; and taking specific measures to ensure residents’ privacy and safety.
The Rowan County Department of Social Services, in a July 1 letter to Smith, said his June 27 complaint is currently being investigated and that he would be notified of the findings. Director Sandra Wilkes said the department’s Child Protective Services did accept the complaint to investigate.
“Based on my understanding of the allegation,” she said, “it sounds like it is licensure issues maybe more than abuse or neglect of the residents there.” Wilkes said staff, if they had not already, would be contacting the state about the matter.
Stephan Tomlinson, director of community relations for Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare, said the local mental health entity had given a corporate endorsement of Liberty Home because it is within its catchment area.
That basically means that Piedmont is aware of the group home, he said, and ascertains that its corporate headquarters is within its catchment area.
Tomlinson said, however, that Piedmont had not referred any clients to the group home because it’s not in its network “unless there’s a situation where the providers within our network do not provide the specific services that we require.”
One Love Developmental Services was founded in February of 1999 by Jimmy Rorie, Troy Veale and Steve Wideman. The Liberty Home was its first facility to open, and the company now has eight licensed facilities serving Rowan, Davidson, Gaston, Lincoln, Burke, McDowell, Caldwell and Forsyth counties.