Jun 5, 2011

Hillandale Caretaker charged with abuse of ALF resident

Caretaker charged with sex abuse of ALF resident

Just weeks after state regulators declared that a troubled Pasco County assisted-living facility had overcome a long history of violence and abuse, a 57-year-old caretaker at the home was arrested for sexual battery against a mentally disabled woman.

Orlando Baez admitted last week to sexually abusing the 26-year-old woman living at Hillandale in Pasco County – the second time an employee has been arrested for sexually molesting vulnerable residents under their care.

Baez was initially suspended and later fired from the facility, which has been sharply criticized by state disability advocates who have long called for the closing of the home.

The arrest was the latest in a series of abuse cases at the facility, where caretakers have been caught forcing residents into locked closets, doping them with powerful tranquilizers and physically restraining them using violent takedowns.

One of the few ALFs in Florida that care for people with disabilities and mental illness, Hillandale was profiled in a Miami Herald series this month showing how state regulators have allowed scores of troubled homes to remain open, despite dangerous and decrepit conditions.

Though the state Agency for Health Care Administration said last month that Hillandale had resolved its problems and was not under any sanctions, a state disabilities agency has refused to send thousands of dollars in housing assistance to the facility since 2005, citing ongoing concerns.

“Providers note serious abuse taking place,” wrote Ken Winn, a psychologist for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities last May.

In addition to caretaker abuse, the facility has also been plagued by violence between residents, including as recently as Thursday night, when an 18-year-old man was arrested at the home for striking a 36-year-old deaf resident diagnosed with Down syndrome.

John Ross, the home’s administrator, did not return phone calls.

Three state agencies have launched investigations into the sexual assault, including the state Department of Children & Families, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities and Department of Elder Affairs ombudsman program.

The victim of the assault told deputies that Baez coaxed her out of view of the facility’s security cameras and sexually abused her, including one incident when he told her to meet him in a bathroom and disrobe.

Even before the misconduct was discovered, Baez was suspended from working at the home for “not establishing proper boundaries” with the victim, but police reports did not elaborate on the reason for the discipline or whether he was allowed to return. He was being held Friday at the Land O’Lakes detention center on a $25,000 bond.

Shahtia Gay-Hairston, an attorney representing Baez, did not return phone calls.

Baez’s assault wasn’t the first by a caretaker at the home: 49-year-old Richard Langford was charged with sexual battery in 2005 after promising a disabled woman magic markers if she would let him take her clothes off. He pleaded guilty to molesting a disabled person and was sentenced to 66 months in prison.

After the assault, regulators cited the home for poor supervision, saying Langford was the only staff member on duty to watch two dozen people with severe disabilities and mental illnesses.

Hillandale, which carries a special license to care for people with mental illness, was among 418 homes cited since 2002 for failing to properly watch over their residents, The Herald found.

In addition, the home was among 1,107 ALFs caught by regulators resorting to illegal restraints to control unruly residents during the same period.

The home was ordered in 2005 to stop forcing residents into an illegal isolation chamber with magnetic locks when they acted out. That same year, the home was found using violent takedowns to control residents 14 times in one month. AHCA imposed a ban on new admissions, but lifted the moratorium months later.

Ross, who said he ran a furniture manufacturing business before joining the group home, defended the facility’s practices in an interview with The Herald last month, saying he knew more than some of the state surveyors who were citing him.

“It bothers me that I know more about it than the person who is complaining about it,” he said.

Last year, state agents were forced to remove a 47-year-old severely disabled man who had repeatedly fallen, suffered black eyes and doped on tranquilizers, causing a near riot after staff members told residents to stall the rescue.

After the incident, APD wrote that AHCA was aware of the problems at the home, “but has not closed them down.”

Diane Carpenter, regional manager for the Department of Elder Affairs ombudsman program in Central Florida, questioned the oversight at the 24-bed home.

“Who is watching who is doing what? It says to me a lack of supervision by whoever is in charge,” she said, adding that her agency plans on meeting with residents more frequently. “If we have to have an ombudsman out there once a week, we’ll do our best to do it.”

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/05/27/2239248