Resident of Falmouth personal-care home missing since Thursday; state investigates

brain-injured man is a ward of the state

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comAugust 10, 2011 

Larry Lee, a brain-injured man and ward of the state, went missing from a Falmouth Personal Care Home on Aug. 4, 2011.

Police continued searching Tuesday for a brain-injured man who has been missing since Thursday from a Pendleton County personal-care home, where state long-term care officials have launched an investigation.

Larry Lee, 32, has been a ward of the state for years as part of a severe brain-injury program, said his sister, Melissa Knight of Lebanon.

Knight said Tuesday that his disappearance could be a symptom of a bigger problem with the state system that cares for the brain-injured and mentally ill.

The home is officially known as Falmouth Nursing Home, but it is classified as a personal-care home. A personal-care home provides care for people who need some assistance but not full-time nursing care. Residents often are mentally disabled or mentally ill.

Knight said Lee's state guardian, Cynthia Little, called Lee's parents, Carolyn and Larry Lee, about 6 p.m. Friday to tell them she had just received a call from the home that their son was missing.

The home told Little that Lee had eaten lunch Thursday, "and they hadn't seen him since," Knight said. "They said they noticed him gone around 6 p.m. when they went to his room, where they thought he was sleeping, to give him his medication."

Beth Fisher, a spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said the Cabinet's Office of Inspector General was investigating but she couldn't provide details.

Falmouth police Chief Mark Posey said Tuesday that after the younger Lee's photo appeared on WLEX-TV, a woman reported that someone resembling him had asked her for money Sunday on Richmond Road in Lexington. He said other people later reported seeing Lee in Pendleton County, but that he hadn't been found as of Tuesday afternoon.

Posey said the home contacted police Thursday and said Lee had walked away. But Posey said that because walk-away reports are common at such homes and that because residents usually return within hours, police looked for Lee but didn't take a missing-persons report until Friday.

A woman who answered the phone at Falmouth Nursing Home on Tuesday would not identify herself or answer questions. Fisher said the home is owned by We-Care Inc.

As soon as she received the news Friday night that her brother was missing, Knight said, she contacted Kentucky State Police and Falmouth police.

"I gave the police the information to file a missing persons report, explaining to them that Larry has brain injuries, is schizophrenic, bipolar and diabetic. He couldn't last long on his own," said Knight.

She said the family searched the area around the home — "riverside, restaurants, gas stations, neighbors ... with no leads to his whereabouts."

"He has only the clothes on his back — no medicine, no food, no ID, no money," she said.

Knight said that when she visited the home to try to get information, "there was only one young woman there" with 28 residents.

Knight said her brother lived at a residential program for people with brain injuries in Somerset for about three years, then was moved to Eastern State Hospital in Lexington when that program shut down earlier this year. She said he was transferred to Falmouth Nursing Home about six or eight weeks ago.

"It's just a constant battle to find good care and the proper place," she said. "He has a state guardian and a caseworker. They are always looking" for a suitable place for Lee to live.

Knight said there should be more readily available information on "who the state has contracts with that can care for these people and what the standards are to get that contract, and what level of care that they are qualified to give," she said.

In Frankfort, Marsha Hockensmith, director of Protection and Advocacy, a federally mandated legal advocacy agency that protects the rights of people with disabilities, said her agency was reviewing conditions in personal-care homes.

The broader issue, Hockensmith said, is that people with mental illness, intellectual and developmental disabilities, brain injuries and other disabilities "are living in institutional settings that the state refers to as homes, when in reality these settings ... are not homes but rather institutions where individuals are often times segregated from their community."

"Individuals living at some of the free-standing personal-care homes across Kentucky are oftentimes not informed about their rights and ofttimes denied those freedoms and privileges that we take for granted," Hockensmith said.

She said she met with the Office of the Inspector General, the Long Term Care Ombudsman office and others, "all who have been very responsive and willing to ... discuss ... problems we have found when at these institutions."

But she said that even though the "Office of the Inspector General investigates and issues citations to some of the personal care homes out of compliance with state regulations, this in and of itself does not speak to the broader systemic issue."

Anyone with information about Lee is asked to call Falmouth police at (859) 654-3300.

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3409.

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