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State may revoke license of Alachua County group home

BROOKSVILLE — After James Graziano was hit by a car and killed after wandering away from his Gainesville group home last summer, his family in Weeki Wachee hoped the 23-year-old's death would be a tragic lesson for the staff to keep better tabs on clients.

Now a state agency wants to shut down the facility altogether.

James Graziano's death was the result of Arc of Alachua County's failure to properly meet his needs, according to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. The agency has filed an administrative complaint with the state and is seeking to revoke the group home's license.

Arc is a private, not-for-profit organization that specializes in providing services to clients with disabilities. The home on SW 75th Street serves residents with Prader-Willi syndrome, a disorder characterized by an insatiable urge to eat.

Often, such as in James' case, people with the syndrome are also intellectually disabled and tend to wander.

In the three years prior to James' death, the complaint states, the Alachua County Sheriff's Office was called to facility about 20 times after clients went missing. On at least nine occasions, Arc did not report the missing client to the disabilities agency as required by Florida rules.

On the evening of Aug. 4, when James left, there was no on-site administrator at the home on 75th Street, and there was only one staffer on duty at the time, the complaint alleges.

"(James') 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 states.

Arc also failed to effectively correct issues even after James' death, the complaint states.

In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, Arc of Alachua's associate director Steve Drago once again expressed sympathy for the Graziano family but denied the organization failed to provide proper care and treatment for their son.

"With respect to the APD complaint, most of the allegations are simply wrong and without a factual basis. The remaining allegations are strongly contested," Drago said.

Drago said the agency in 2010 removed "elopement prevention" from James' care plan because he had not tried to leave in about six years.

An administrative law judge will hear the case in January and make a nonbinding recommendation on whether the disabilities agency has grounds to revoke the license.

"There is a lot of information that supports closing the facility," said agency spokeswoman Melanie Etters.

Salvatore Graziano, James' dad, said Thursday that the family's attorney advised them not to comment on the case.

In an interview with the Times in August, Mr. Graziano and his wife Sandra said they made the difficult decision to place James in the facility about seven years ago. There, his parents figured, he could be with other people with Prader-Willi and the staff would watch his diet and his whereabouts.

Things generally went well. James, who attended Central High and earned an exceptional education certificate from Gainesville High, lost weight and took medication that helped calm his temper. But they 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, finding it occupied, started toward another in the house, then apparently left through one of the house's side or back doors.

He was about a half-mile away when he stepped off the shoulder and into the path of a Nissan Versa, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition. The Grazianos said a detective told them the Arc staff didn't know James was gone until a police officer showed up at the door.

A week later, the Grazianos decided to take James off life support.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@tampabay.com, (352) 848-1431 or on Twitter @TMarreroTimes and @HernandoTimes.

State may revoke license of Alachua County group home 11/29/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 29, 2012 7:11pm]
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