A Gainesville group home that cared for the disabled son of a Weeki Wachee couple has closed, but not because a state agency wanted to shutter the facility in the wake of the young man's death last year, its owners say.
Arc of Alachua decided not to renew a state license for its 75th Street group home because it was too far from the greater Gainesville area, executive director Dick Bradley wrote in a Dec. 21 letter to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
All five residents have been relocated to other Arc facilities in the area, Bradley wrote.
"Because of the location issue, this home can never contribute meaningfully to our mission and, therefore, we will never be seeking to license this home in the future," Bradley wrote. "It will remain listed until it sells."
The home cared for clients with Prader-Willi syndrome, a disorder characterized by an insatiable urge to eat. Often, including in the case of 23-year-old James Graziano, people with the syndrome are intellectually disabled and tend to wander.
On Aug. 4, Graziano left the home at 7810 SW 75th St., walked about a half-mile and stepped into the path of a Nissan Versa. He was taken to the hospital with critical injuries. His parents, Salvatore and Sandra Graziano of Weeki Wachee, took him off life support a week later.
The state Agency for Persons with Disabilities investigated and decided Graziano's death was the result of Arc's failure to properly meet his needs. The agency filed a complaint with the state Division of Administrative Hearings, seeking to revoke the group home's license, which was to expire Dec. 31.
On the evening of James' death, the complaint stated, there was no on-site administrator at the home and only one staffer on duty at the time.
"(Graziano's) elopement, injuries and death are the result of (Arc's) inadequate physical care, inadequate guidance, inadequate supervision, failure to protect (James) from harm and neglect, and failure to take all reasonable precautions to assure that (he) was not exposed to behavior that was physically injurious to himself," the complaint stated.
In the three years prior to Graziano's death, the Alachua County Sheriff's Office had been called to the home about 20 times after clients went missing. On at least nine occasions, the complaint alleged, Arc did not report the missing client to the disabilities agency, as required by the state.
Arc also failed to effectively correct issues, even after James' death, the complaint stated.
Arc filed an appeal for a hearing in front of an administrative judge.
Then Bradley sent the Dec. 21 letter, notifying the disabilities agency of plans not to seek renewal of the license. The agency withdrew its complaint last week.
In an email to the Times, Bradley said the charges "were almost all easily proven to have no basis in fact."
Arc has fax cover sheets that document incident reports sent to the agency when clients went missing, Bradley said. Arc was "extensively prepared" to contest the other claims, he said.
"I am very confident that we would have prevailed at the administrative hearing," he said.
The Grazianos made the difficult decision to place James in the facility about seven years ago. There, his parents told the Times last year, he could be with other people with Prader-Willi, and the staff would watch his diet and his whereabouts.
James, who attended Central High School and earned an exceptional education certificate from Gainesville High, did well. He lost much of his excess weight and took medication to help calm his temper. But his parents worried because he tried to leave about a half-dozen times.
The Grazianos said Arc staffers told them James was on his way to one of the house's bathrooms the night he died and found it occupied. He started toward another in the house, then apparently left through one of the house's side or back doors. The Grazianos said a detective told them the Arc staff didn't know James was gone until a police officer arrived at the home.
Despite that, the Grazianos did not call for the home's closure. There is not an abundance of facilities that cater to Prader-Willi clients, so the couple hoped the 75th Street home would stay open with a mandate to keep better track of clients.
"Those children have been together for seven years," Salvatore Graziano said this week. "I just hope they didn't break them all up."
He declined to comment further, citing the advice of the family's attorney. The attorney, Michael Carter, did not return a message left at his office on Friday.
Officials at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities are comfortable that Prader-Willi clients will have sufficient access to other state-licensed facilities, said spokeswoman Melanie Etters.
"At this point we feel like we have the resources to serve the individuals we are currently serving," Etters said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431. On Twitter: @TMarreroTimes and @HernandoTimes.