Neglected to Death

State moves to shut down ALF

Declaring residents of a Tampa Bay assisted-living facility are in serious danger, state regulators are seeking to shut down the home after breakdowns in care led to an outbreak of violence among the two dozen residents, including the reported rape of a disabled 27-year-old by her caregiver.

Regulators said Hillandale ALF should be shuttered after finding sweeping abuse at the facility that put residents in jeopardy of “death or serious physical or emotional harm.” The move to revoke Hillandale’s license is the most severe weapon in the state’s arsenal.

The decision marks the first time the Agency for Health Care Administration has taken such action against the New Port Richey facility, which has drawn criticism over the years from regulators for its unorthodox methods of disciplining residents — including doping them with tranquilizers, imposing painful “takedowns” and forcing them into a locked closet.

The home was profiled in a Miami Herald series last month as an example of a facility that was allowed to stay open by state regulators despite a litany of abuses detailed by case workers and police.

The complaint against the home, part of the Mapleway Communities ALF chain, was filed two weeks after AHCA terminated the chain’s ability to bill for services under Medicaid, the state’s insurer for the needy and disabled. Several residents have been moved from the homes to other facilities.

AHCA administrators would not discuss what led to the most recent crackdown at Hillandale, but records show law enforcement had been called to the home numerous times in the past three months.

In a scathing 33-page order, regulators said the facility was plagued by a “collapse in the delivery of care” that led to a host of dangers, including the rape of a woman with autism, bipolar disorder and seizures, and attacks on at least six residents by a young man whose own doctor warned he was potentially dangerous.

Hillandale’s owners have 21 days to decide whether to shut down the home or appeal to the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings, said AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman.

Amelia Cowles, who owns Hillandale with her husband, declined to discuss AHCA’s action, referring a reporter to the home’s administrator, John Ross. Ross did not return calls.

Though AHCA told The Herald in April that no problems at the home merited sanctions, the agency’s own report on Wednesday showed a long series of incidents beginning in February that escalated in the ensuing months.

The most severe incident: the suspected sexual assault of a 27-year-old woman by a caregiver, 57-year-old Orlando Baez.

At one point, records say, Ross said he suspended Baez for four days, but that no one was monitoring the two to ensure the woman was safe.

State reports say that four staff members became suspicious that Baez was engaged in sexual activity with the woman, including one employee who said the woman told him Baez was her “boyfriend,” and that she had had “relations” with him. The woman was under a guardianship with her mother, and did not have the cognitive ability to consent to sex, a report said.

Even the facility’s owner, Amelia Cowles, told authorities she was warned that Baez had been seen kissing the woman, but she failed to report the “breach” to Ross or others, the complaint charges.

Ultimately, the caregiver ended up luring the woman to places away from the home’s video cameras before sexually assaulting her, state reports said.

Though AHCA said the home’s management “had general, if not concrete, knowledge” of the relationship, Baez was allowed to stay on staff until the victim told another staff member, who called the state’s abuse hotline.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested Baez on May 20, charging him with sexual battery. He was released on $20,000 bond.

In addition to the sexual assault case, the state’s findings detail another investigation that found the home was beset by violence after Ross had agreed to accept a young man, formerly a foster child, who told authorities he had learned to bully and assault others as a “coping” mechanism in foster care.

The home was faulted for allowing the resident to return to Hillandale even after he had been jailed for beating another resident in March. The man went on to attack six others in the home, slapping, punching and even biting one of them on the arm.

One female resident said the man “would also pretend to be a vampire and bite her on the neck,” the report stated. She did not report the abuse, she said, “because [the assailant] threatened to punch her if she did.” Another resident told investigators the man “would hit him in the head with a belt.”

Though administrators were aware of the violence, the complaint says, they did nothing. Instead, other residents tried to protect each other from the abuse.

The state’s actions come after years of problems at Hillandale, including the arrest and conviction of a caregiver for raping a woman with severe disabilities at the facility in 2005 and the death of a mentally ill man that authorities attributed to the facility’s neglect.

During one 18-month period, sheriff’s deputies were called to the home 174 times to investigate assaults, thefts and missing persons.

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