For months, advocates for disabled people tried to remove Robert Falcone from the Hillandale assisted-living facility, where the severely disabled man had repeatedly fallen, suffered black eyes and was being doped with tranquilizers.
But when the day finally arrived to transfer Falcone, 47, to a new home, residents angrily blocked the path of state agents after a staff member told a resident to stall the move, records show.
The disturbance that unfolded in April 2010 sparked yet another dispute between state agencies over a litany of problems at the Pasco County home one of a handful in Florida that care for people with severe disabilities and mental illness.
While the state Agency for Health Care Administration found no wrongdoing on the part of Hillandale staff, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities disagreed, saying the home had once again violated the rights of its residents.
Since 2005, administrators with APD and advocates for a federally funded watchdog group have warned AHCA about problems at Hillandale and Mapleway, a related facility near Clearwater. Among their concerns: Caregivers had punished residents by throwing them into a small closet with a steel door. Both staff and other residents were employing illegal restraints including wrestling takedowns and painful pressure points. Residents were on potentially dangerous tranquilizers, which one doctor working for APD likened to chemical restraints.
There exists a pattern whereby every time there is an attempt to provide services to the clients at the ALF by reputable professionals, those providers note serious abuse taking place, APD psychologist Ken Winn wrote in a May 14, 2010, memo. AHCA is aware of these issues, but has not closed them down.
At the center of the controversy: John Ross, the homes outspoken administrator, who claims on the Mapleway website to have a Ph.D. a degree he received from Belford University, which the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit called an online scam with dubious credentials. When deputies with the Pasco County Sheriffs Office rushed to Hillandale in 2007 after a resident phoned in a suicide threat, deputies threatened to charge Ross with obstruction for interfering with the investigation. He was never charged.
I can be a smart-ass, but Im usually only a smart-ass if I know Im 100 percent correct, Ross said in an interview. Its only because Im addressing someone who doesnt have a clue what they are talking about.
Originally funded by the disabilities agency to house people with mental retardation, cerebral palsy and autism, the Mapleway Communities homes were stripped of the housing dollars by APD in 2005 following a flurry of complaints from caseworkers, psychologists and advocates. The turmoil began as early as 2003, when a caregiver was fired after he brought a stun gun to Mapleway and told a resident, dont make me use this, according to a state Department of Children & Families abuse report.
On March 31, 2005, the disabilities agency wrote a formal complaint to AHCA outlining an alarming number of abuse reports, injuries, hospitalizations, as well as active attempts to cover up these harmful practices. AHCA imposed a ban on new admissions to both Mapleway and Hillandale, but lifted the moratorium months later. It was the last major sanction imposed on the homes.