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Care Homes - An Investigation by the Tulsa World and The Oklahoman

By Gavin Off and Ginnie Graham - Tulsa World Staff Writers Published: February 21, 2010

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Of the inspections, 15 of the state's 80 homes had minor violations only.

Housekeeping problems rank among the top deficiencies, tallying 45 violations since late 2006, data show. Infestations accounted for seven violations.

Peppered throughout the reports are stories of homes battling mold and mice, leaky roofs and filthy bathrooms.

Inspectors visited Jeanies Residential Care Home, a 57-bed Bluejacket facility, in June 2008. They noticed a strong urine odor in the southeast hall. One toilet in the bathroom of room No. 26 had a dark yellow-brown substance surrounding the base.

"When flushed, water ran out from beneath the toilet and onto the floor," according to an inspector's report.

A resident told inspectors she was afraid to drink water from her pitcher because it was covered in ants the previous day. The inspector found ants crawling on the bathroom sink.

"They put their leg up in the air and bite you," the resident said.

Owner Jeanie Wesley said a resident not taking care of his room caused the bathroom problems. She said the home has exterminator services each month.

On March 1, 2007, health inspectors also smelled urine at Jeanies. During the noon meal, inspectors saw a female resident leaving the dining room with the back of her thin gown covered in urine and feces, records show.

The administrator told her to change clothes.

Two mattresses in Jeanies had brown stains across them, inspectors noted in February 2007. The mattress in one room was also slumped in the middle.

"I need to get some new mattresses," the administrator said. During a March 2007 inspection of Edna Lee's Residential Care in Vinita, state officials found cockroaches on furniture in a resident's room.

Said the home's administrator, "Yeah, I know I have a huge problem."

Two months later at Noble Residential Care in Noble, inspectors determined the home's rodent infestation had become an emergency.

In a letter dated May 29, 2007, a service manager for Terminix, a pest-control company, recommended obtaining "total control of the facility."

"The most important issue is for the safety of the residents," the letter states.

That wasn't the only time the facility had an infestation problem.

In 2005, the Health Department had to evacuate residents of the Noble home after inspectors found more cockroaches then they could count. The same day, officials found rodent droppings, urine-soaked kitchen plates and insects crawling on residents' clothing and bedding.

In January 2006, the owners — Roger Daniel Howe, Linda Faye Howe and Cynthia D. Howe — were charged with caretaker abuse after an elderly man wandered away from the home into town. Charges were dismissed against Roger and Linda Howe, and Cynthia Howe pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of public nuisance, records show.

While the Health Department was in the process of revoking the Noble home's license, the building was destroyed by fire. The state considers the owners ineligible for a license because the home was out of compliance when it burned.

‘Don't want to flip burgers'

Housing advocates have been asking lawmakers for an avenue to improve housing options for people with disabilities and for low-income families.

Pending legislation - House Bill 2075 and Senate Bill 403 - seeks to create a trust fund to be overseen by an independent board and administered by the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency to research and promote housing development through private and public financing. Michael Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, said 43 other states have housing trust funds, which would encourage the use of quality-of-life housing models for people with disabilities.

"These trust funds allow private developers, nonprofits and housing authorities the ability to create enough affordable independent housing that makes licensed residential care homes unnecessary," Brose said.

Health Department officials recognize the need for quality staff who want to help people.

"A lot of people don't want to flip burgers at McDonald's," Huser said. "They want to be caring for somebody. A lot of people who work in these facilities are caring people, and this is what they want to do."

Fines instead of court

The state is fining homes more often, with 57 fines against residential homes totaling more than $86,000 since 2002. Half of those were levied within the past two years.

Efforts to revoke a license can be lengthy, expensive and involve court action, so the agency is using fines, Huser said.

"In some cases, if we cannot get compliance or get the facility to do what we believe they need to do. . . We will go for revocation of the license," Huser said.