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State seeks to shutter New Port Richey assisted living facility

Declaring that residents of a New Port Richey assisted living facility are in serious danger, state regulators are seeking to shut down the home where breakdowns in care led to an outbreak of violence among two dozen residents — including the reported rape of a disabled 27-year-old by her own caregiver.

Regulators said Hillandale, one of the few homes that accepts people with disabilities, should be shuttered after they found sweeping abuse at the facility that put residents in jeopardy of "death or serious physical or emotional harm." The move to revoke Hillandale's license is the most severe weapon in the state's arsenal.

The decision marks the first time the state Agency for Health Care Administration has taken such action against the facility, which has drawn criticism over the years from regulators and advocates for its unorthodox methods of disciplining residents — including doping them with tranquilizers, imposing painful "takedowns" and forcing them into a locked closet.

The home was profiled in a Miami Herald series last month as an example of a facility allowed to stay open despite a litany of abuses detailed by case workers and police.

The complaint against the home, part of the Mapleway Communities chain, was filed two weeks after the AHCA terminated the chain's ability to bill for services under Medicaid, the state's insurer for the needy and disabled. Several residents already have been moved from the homes to other facilities.

AHCA administrators will not discuss what led to the most recent crackdown at Hillandale, but records show law enforcement had been called to the home numerous times in the past three months.

In a scathing 33-page order, regulators said the facility was plagued by a "collapse in the delivery of care" that led to a host of dangers, including the rape of a woman and attacks on at least six residents by a young man whose doctor warned he was potentially dangerous.

Hillandale's owners have 21 days to decide whether to shut down the home or appeal, said AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman.

Amelia Cowles, who owns Hillandale along with her husband, declined to discuss the AHCA's action, referring a reporter to the home's administrator, John Ross. Ross did not return calls.

Though the AHCA told the Herald in April that there were no problems at the home serious enough to merit sanctions, the agency's own report Wednesday showed a long series of incidents starting in February that escalated in the ensuing months.

The most severe incident: the suspected sexual assault of a 27-year-old woman by a caregiver, 57-year-old Orlando Baez.

At one point, records say, Ross said that he suspended Baez for four days for not establishing "clear-cut boundaries" with the woman, but that no one was monitoring the two to ensure the woman was safe.

State reports say that four staff members became suspicious that Baez was engaged in sexual activity with the woman, including one employee who said the woman told him Baez was her "boyfriend," and that she had had "relations" with him. The woman did not have the cognitive ability to consent to sex, a report said.

Ultimately, the caregiver lured the woman into a restroom and other places away from the video cameras before sexually assaulting her, reports said.

Though the AHCA said the home's management "had general, if not concrete, knowledge" of the relationship, Baez was allowed to stay on staff until the woman told another staff member, who called the state's abuse hotline.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Baez on May 20, charging him with sexual battery.

The state's findings also detail the conclusions of another investigation that found the home was beset by violence after Ross agreed to accept a young man who told authorities he had learned to bully and assault others as a "coping'' mechanism in foster care.

The home was faulted for allowing the resident to return to Hillandale even after he'd been jailed for beating another resident in March. The man went on to attack six others.

Though administrators were aware of the violence, the complaint says, they did nothing.

The state's actions come after years of problems at Hillandale, including the arrest and conviction of a caregiver for raping a woman with severe disabilities at the facility in 2005 and the death of a mentally ill man that authorities attributed to neglect.

During one 18-month period, deputies were called to the home 174 times to investigate assaults, thefts and missing persons.

Advocates for elders and people with developmental disabilities said Wednesday they were pleased by the state's forceful action, though some questioned why it took the AHCA so long to move against the home.

"What I'm sorry about is that all this had to drag on for so long," said Diane Carpenter, director of the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program in Central Florida, which is authorized to advocate on behalf of nursing home or assisted living residents who may have been mistreated. "Residents are supposed to feel safe. This is their home."

State seeks to shutter New Port Richey assisted living facility 06/29/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 10:45pm]
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