A new Advocacy Center investigation released Tuesday criticized continuing deplorable conditions at 16 state-funded, privately operated group homes for the developmentally disabled despite numerous state citations since 2008.
"We want people to understand that their (tax) money is funding something that's all about the provider making money. It's not about treatment and care," said Lois Simpson, executive director of the non-profit organization that advocates for citizens with disabilities.
The homes surveyed were deemed the worst in their regions by state ombudsmen who advocate for the rights of home residents, Simpson said.
Simpson said financial sanctions, which could foster improved conditions, have been sorely lacking against group home owners found in violation of state and federal licensing and health-care standards.
State health officials listened in as Simpson and others detailed findings of dirty, unsafe, uncomfortable and chaotic living environments during a State Capitol steps news conference.
State Department of Health and Hospitals Deputy Secretary Kathy Kliebert said the agency was "disappointed" that the Advocacy Center chose the public forum to release its report. She said the report singles out 16 homes out of about 500 in communities around the state.
Kliebert said some of the homes have been sanctioned in the past and corrective actions taken so they come into compliance.
Late Tuesday, DHH provided information indicating that seven of the 16 homes had received financial sanctions totaling $14,500 based on violations found in surveys dating back to 2006. The largest single sanction came in 2009 against Harmony Center #2 in Baton Rouge for $4,000.
"We would not leave an individual in an unsafe environment," said Kliebert.
Kliebert said DHH only received three formal complaints against the homes during the last year.
The report - "When a House is not a Home" - is the result of an investigation that began in 2008 into homes where ombudsmen identified what the Advocacy Center called "a clear pattern of neglect" that was allowed to continue, despite repeated complaints and citations in state surveys.
Two of the group homes cited are in Baton Rouge: Harmony Center #2, 427 N. 13th St., and Inchbrook Group Home, 4532 Inchbrook Dr. A third home, Happy Haven Circle, is located at 42630 Hinson Road, Hammond.
Five homes included in the report are located in Kenner and one each in Jennings, Delhi, Mansfield, Mamou, Pollock, New Orleans, Vinton and Bernice.
Simpson said groups homes are supposed to allow the disabled to live in communities in family-like atmospheres where they can interact with people who are not disabled through work, leisure activities and the like. The homes surveyed fall far short - including many in poor condition, with peeling paint, broken furniture and bug infestation, located in either crime-ridden or rural areas, she said.
The report also documented lapses in appropriate and needed health-care services for the residents living in them, including failure to keep up with medications.
Kay Marcel of New Iberia, an Advocacy Center board member, said the report was "extremely difficult and upsetting" to read. "I couldn't help but think about my own son and his vulnerability were he to be in any such facility," she said. Marcel's developmentally disabled adult son, Joel, lives at home with the help of state services.
Marcel issued a call to action for change, including passage of Senate Bill 227 during the current legislative session that would allow the money to follow the person. The change would allow the money spent to care for a person to live in a facility to "follow" the person when they leave and be used to support the person living in their own home.