By Beth Musgrave and Valarie Honeycutt Spears
FRANKFORT — The state could have done more to protect mentally ill and disabled residents from abuse at a now-shuttered home for adults with disabilities, according to a report released Tuesday by a state watchdog group.
Golden Years Rest Home in Jenkins was closed in September after Attorney General Jack Conway asked that it be put in receivership because of multiple concerns about residents’ finances. The personal care home — which provides less medical care than a nursing home — had been the subject of several criminal investigations and state citations regarding resident safety and care.
Protection and Advocacy, a state agency that advocates for adults with disabilities, found during its one-year investigation that residents were allegedly sexually abused by other residents at the facility, staff verbally abused residents, there was frequently not enough food at the facility and residents did not know their rights.
Despite multiple allegations of problems at the facility since 2009, little was done by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to protect residents until Conway’s office took action in 2011, the report found.
The response of state agencies responsible for providing oversight of Golden Years was just as “alarming” as the “living conditions and numerous rights violations of residents” at the facility, the report found.
“The closure of Golden Years Rest Home does not address or change Kentucky’s current service system, which does not effectively and appropriately support persons with mental illness,” said Marsha Hockensmith, executive director of Protection and Advocacy.
Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the cabinet, said the cabinet had investigated the complaints about Golden Years according to its protocols.
“On numerous occasions, various departments within the agency received complaints related to Golden Years Rest Home in Letcher County and each were approached according to cabinet policy and protocol,” Midkiff said in a statement.
The state Long Term Care Ombudsmen, an independent advocate for people who live in long-term care facilities, also stepped up its oversight of the facility and increased visits to Golden Years, Midkiff said.
Tuesday’s report is the second report by Protection and Advocacy in less than six months about problems at personal care homes in Kentucky. A March report alleges that personal care homes in Kentucky — even those that are well-run — violate a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says housing people with disabilities in institution-like settings is a form of discrimination.
Advocacy groups in other states have successfully sued to remove people with disabilities from institution-like settings. But Hockensmith said her agency is still working with state officials to improve conditions at Kentucky’s 81 free-standing personal care homes before making a decision about possible litigation.
During its investigation, Protection and Advocacy had reported some of its concerns to the cabinet’s adult protection division and Office of Inspector General, which regulates personal care homes. The allegations of sexual abuse by residents were unsubstantiated by adult protection workers and the inspector general, the report said.
Protection and Advocacy then received another complaint about sexual abuse from a resident at the facility in January 2011, which the agency forwarded to adult protection. The complaint was never investigated by adult protection workers because it did not “meet the criteria for investigation,” according to the report.
Protection and Advocacy even had difficulty reporting the allegations to adult protection workers.
In August 2010, investigators tried to call an adult abuse hotline to report the problems they found at the facility, but the hotline operator told the investigators they did not know how to take a report for multiple people involving multiple allegations, according to the report.
The operator took the information but did not give Protection and Advocacy any further instructions. Advocates asked to speak to the on-call adult protection worker, but the operator did not have the person’s number. Protection and Advocacy investigators were able to get the on-call worker’s beeper number, but the call was not returned. Advocates later gave the information to the local adult protection office in Letcher County.
The investigation also found that four Type A citations — the most serious levied by the state — and multiple federal Statements of Deficiencies had been issued to Golden Years by the cabinet’s inspector general since 2009, but administrators of the personal care home never submitted acceptable plans of correction to the state.
Earlier this year, Golden Years’ former administrator, James F. “Chum” Tackett, 70, was sentenced to two years in federal prison stemming from the theft of residents’ Social Security funds. Tackett was scheduled to report to federal prison in April.
Tackett also pleaded guilty to felony theft and exploitation charges. He was ordered to pay $340,000 in restitution and placed on probation for 10 years.
Problems at Golden Years included the death in 2007 of a resident who walked away from the home and froze.
After the personal care home shut down last year, it’s 27 residents were moved to other facilities. Since then, many of those residents have thrived, according to the report.
David Noble, who had lived at Golden Years for 12 years, now lives in a community-based home for people with disabilities. Since leaving Golden Years, “things are 100 percent better,” Noble said.
He told Protection and Advocacy that he thought Chum Tackett was his legal guardian because Tackett always handled his money. He also said there sometimes was no heat in the winter and no toilet paper at Golden Years.
According to the report, there are 6,128 personal care home beds in Kentucky. Of those, 4,371 beds are in free-standing facilities that are not connected to a nursing home.
Personal care homes are often the last resort for people with complex problems such as substance abuse, mental illness or a mental disability. Personal care homes receive $1,218 each month — $520 from the state and $698 from a resident’s Social Security disability check — to care for residents.