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The assisted living facility was cited for failing to protect residents.
Published Apr. 25, 2013

The state has revoked the license of an assisted living facility that had been cited for failing to protect its residents, who are young and mentally disabled.

Hillandale Home at 6333 Langston Ave. will have to shut down in 30 days after it arranges for the transfer of its 20 residents, according to an order from the state Agency for Health Care Administration. The home, which was licensed for 24 adults, has been under fire since 2011 when the agency moved to shut it down following the alleged rape of a resident by a caregiver.

The home, owned by Gene and Amelia Cowles and managed by John Ross, had appealed the state's move to close it two years ago, and earlier this year, administrative law judge Lynne A. Quimby-Pennock recommended only a $21,000 fine. But Elizabeth Dudek, the health care administration agency's secretary, said the fine was not severe enough.

"This evidence demonstrates that solely imposing a fine ... would not provide adequate protection for the health, safety and welfare of (Hillandale's) residents," she wrote in an April 15 order.

She cited the lack of qualified staff to ensure the residents' safety, as well as three cases since 2010 in which residents were injured and the incidents were not reported to the state. She also noted that owners allowed a resident with "a propensity toward violence" to live at the home after he had struck another resident. And she cited the alleged 2011 incident in which a caregiver had sex with a 27-year-old resident who suffered from autism, bipolar disorder and seizures.

The caregiver, Orlando Baez, then 57, was suspended for four days. The criminal case is pending.

Hillandale has 30 days to appeal Dudek's decision. Ross said the owners plan to seek a stay of Dudek's order until an appeal can be filed.

"We are definitely not rolling over," said Ross, who was in the process Wednesday of hiring an appellate attorney. He noted that the judge had not recommended that the home be shuttered.

"This is solely the decision of Liz Dudek," he said. "We are going to the mat on this."

Hillandale was featured prominently in a 2011 Miami Herald investigation of assisted living facilities across Florida. It accused Hillandale of using violent takedowns and restraints and locking unruly residents in a closet, sometimes for hours. Ross has said restraints were used with state permission and a time-out room was used only once, for four minutes. He said the room was converted to a supply closet several years ago.

In the case of the alleged rape, state regulators alleged Hillandale owners should have taken preventive action when an improper relationship appeared to develop. Regulators said the woman was under the guardianship of her mother and unable to consent to sex.

Hillandale staff said they were not aware of any improper relationship. As soon as they learned about it, they reported it to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

The state's move to shut down the home followed a 2011 order cutting off Medicaid payments to Hillandale, but Ross said the amount was so low - about $9 per person per day - that it wouldn't affect the facility's ability to offer services.