State shuts down troubled personal care home in Letcher

financial, safety concerns spur move

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comOctober 1, 2011 

An inspection of Golden Years Rest Home in Jenkins uncovered unsanitary conditions, confusion over finances and a lack of activities.

DORI HJALMARSON | STAFF

After years of turmoil and trouble, a Letcher County personal care home began shutting down Friday under the direction of state officials and a court-appointed receiver.

Golden Years Rest Home in Jenkins, which has been cited for numerous health and safety violations regarding its care of residents, could no longer stay open because of financial and safety concerns, Deputy Attorney General Patrick Hughes said in an interview Friday.

Troubles at Golden Years include felony charges against two former administrators, the death of a resident who walked away from the home and froze in 2007, and several state health violations.

The home's 27 residents, many of whom had mental illness and were there because they had no place else to go, were being moved to new homes Friday under the guidance of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

"The safety of these (residents) is paramount," Hughes said. "We are working diligently to ensure that these patients are promptly transferred to a safe and appropriate facility where they will get good care."

Marsha Hockensmith, director of Protection and Advocacy, a state agency that advocates for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, said Friday that some of the residents who are mentally ill could go to other personal care homes. Other residents could be served by community programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, she said.

A personal care home houses people who need less skilled care than a nursing home provides.

In June, Letcher Circuit Judge Sam Wright granted an emergency protection order against Golden Years requested by Attorney General Jack Conway's office. The attorney general's office sought the order under its authority as the regulator of non-profit groups in Kentucky.

Linda Bell was appointed receiver and took over day-to-day operations at the home as a volunteer. Bell told Wright in August that the home's debts exceeded its revenue and that the building was in disrepair.

"The attorney general's office has worked tirelessly to restore stability to Golden Years and to ensure the safety and care of its residents," Conway's office said in a statement Friday. "The facility was in such dire financial condition at the time the receiver took possession, we are unable to preserve it."

Conway's office said it had a common-law duty to protect the residents and the non-profit home's assets.

"There is no question that our efforts, in coordination with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, have saved innocent lives," the statement said.

Hughes said Friday that an agreement could not be reached for a new owner to take over the home.

"When we were unable to identify a new operator, it became apparent that this was in the best interest of the residents," Hughes said.

Former administrator James Tackett faces federal and state charges for allegedly taking more than $500,000 from money intended for the residents who lived at Golden Years. He has pleaded not guilty. His state trial is scheduled to begin Monday in Letcher Circuit Court.

Former administrator Jonah Tackett was charged in July with two counts of bribing a witness and other felonies. Letcher Circuit Court was closed late Friday afternoon, and the status of Jonah Tackett's case could not be obtained.

James Tackett has asked the Kentucky Court of Appeals twice to halt proceedings to liquidate and dissolve the corporation that formerly operated the home. Those actions are pending. James Tackett's attorney, James Asher, declined to comment Friday.

At Golden Years in December, inspectors with the cabinet's Office of Inspector General found that Kool-Aid had dripped onto the tops of insulin bottles and that medicines found in the refrigerator had expired.

Residents were allowed to bathe only every other day because there were no clean towels. The residents had not had milk in a month because the bill had not been paid, inspectors said.

"What happened at Golden Years is a tragedy," the attorney general's office statement said Friday. "Be assured, the attorney general's office is committed to fully investigating the mishandling and misappropriation of charitable assets at this facility."

In 2007, Larry Bruce Huff, 64, who had schizophrenia and a history of alcoholism, walked away from Golden Years and later froze to death.

According to a state citation issued to the home, staff members waited 17 hours to notify police, even though Huff had a history of wandering away. He had left the home at least six times in the two weeks before he died, according to state records.

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

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