Fayette County

Neighbors cite problems with Messner Home facility on Versailles Road

The Messner Home consists of three buildings: a two-story house on Versailles Road; a two-story building on Hill Rise Court; and a four-bedroom bungalow, also on Hill Rise Court.
The Messner Home consists of three buildings: a two-story house on Versailles Road; a two-story building on Hill Rise Court; and a four-bedroom bungalow, also on Hill Rise Court. ©2011

A manager of an apartment building off Versailles Road says some residents of a nearby facility for men whose problems include mental illnesses, mental disabilities and incarcerations are intruding on apartment dwellers by panhandling, knocking on people's windows and otherwise causing trouble.

The complaints are on top of the concerns officials from Kentucky Protection and Advocacy, an independent state agency mandated by federal law to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities, expressed in a Herald-Leader article Tuesday.

That agency has been investigating the facility, the Messner Home, its living conditions and the fact that two of its buildings aren't regulated by the state or federal government.

Since August, Protection and Advocacy has alerted state and local government agencies to problems such as bedbugs and poor building conditions. Officials said those issues are improving.

But some neighbors say problems are escalating.

"I have had a number of problems with the residents being in my vacant apartments, looking for illegal drugs and frankly scaring residents by knocking on their windows," Brenda Farris, the manager of Preakness Apartments on Hill Rise Court said in an email Tuesday. "I had a group of 15 residents in my office yesterday afternoon demanding more protection from the intrusions. I recently purchased locks for all exterior doors to try to alleviate this problem."

Farris said she has called Lexington police and Urban County Councilwoman Peggy Henson, who represents the district.

Henson said she and Urban County social services Commissioner Beth Mills met in November with officials from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, including those who handle adult protective services. "I think Commissioner Mills and I were hoping the state would implement some sort of regulation," said Henson.

Mills said in a statement Thursday that community partners, the state cabinet and city Department of Social Services were working together to consider long-range plans for alternative housing for mentally ill and mentally disabled people.

The cabinet department that includes adult protective services "has been actively involved in meetings with partnering agencies," said cabinet spokeswoman Jill Midkiff. Midkiff said that the cabinet could not confirm or deny if there was an ongoing investigation but that if there are abuse or neglect allegations of a vulnerable adult that meet the cabinet's criteria, "Adult Protective Services will respond."

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services typically licenses and regulates homes where the mentally ill and mentally disabled live in a group setting. But the Messner Home is not regulated in that way.

In 1996, the state agency that is now the Cabinet for Health and Family Services alleged in a court action against the Messner Home that investigators found "filthy mattresses, insect infestation, soiled rooms and physical plant deterioration."

The state waged a court battle to get an injunction forcing the Messner Home to cease operation because it was not licensed by the state, according to a Fayette Circuit Court document.

In 1998, the Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld a Fayette Circuit Court ruling that said the Messner Home did not have to obtain a state health facility license to care for non-veterans because it was regulated by the Veterans Administration.

During the 1980s, more than 50 veterans lived at the facility. Currently eight veterans live in only one of three buildings on the Messner Home campus. The VA has jurisdiction over that building only.

Neither the state nor the VA oversees two other buildings on the campus.

Cabinet Secretary Janie Miller has directed her staff "to contact the VA to explore whether circumstances have changed that would warrant clarification from the court" about the 1990s ruling, which held that Messner was exempt from state regulatory oversight, Midkiff said.

Ralph Messner said in an interview Wednesday that this was the first he'd heard of the concerns from nearby apartment residents.

Messner said the men, who pay for their room and board with government benefits, are well cared for and are seen by medical and social services officials.

Messner has said he provides a home for men no one else wants, including state wards, convicted sexual offenders and former state foster children who age out of the system at 18.

Hollis Hilty, an emergency room physician at Central Baptist Hospital, said officials from the Messner Home "have been wonderful about taking people after we have seen them in the ER that nobody else will take and every other institution has rejected."

"I can certainly understand the difficulties that the neighbors would have. A lot of them have psychiatric issues that are profound," although they can't legally be held in an institution, he said.

Messner said he does not run a locked facility.

"None of my doors are ever locked. They can come and go and do anything they want to. If they go out and break the law, they've got to pay the piper,'' Messner said."

Henson said she has worked with people who have mental disabilities and thinks it would be good if Messner offered the men more organized activities and more case management.

Messner said the only organized activities are three church services a week. The VA does not require organized activities, he said.

Farris, the apartment manager, said she was looking for a solution.

She said she thought "it would be helpful if all parties could come together for a resolution. I would certainly be open to working with anyone to make this a better place for all residents of the Hill Rise community."