WHITESBURG — The attorney general and a court-appointed receiver recommended Friday that a Paintsville for-profit corporation take over operations of a troubled personal care home in Letcher County.
Letcher Circuit Judge Samuel Wright said after a hearing that lasted more than three hours that he would decide soon whether William Shackleford, who runs a personal care home in Paintsville, should be granted a 12-month lease to take over operations of Golden Years Rest Home in Jenkins.
Golden Years has been cited for numerous health and safety violations regarding its care of residents, and former administrators face several criminal charges.
Linda Bell, who was appointed receiver of the facility in June on the recommendation of Attorney General Jack Conway's office, told the judge Friday that the facility's debts exceeded its income.
The facility owes Kentucky Power $8,000 and Gordon Food Service $20,000 and has a bank loan of $88,000, Bell said. There are also years of unpaid federal and state taxes, she said.
The facility has opted not to pay its mortgage in order to make payroll, Bell said.
"We're just hanging on by a thread," she said.
A personal care home houses people who need less skilled care than a nursing home. Many times the people have mental illnesses or mental disabilities. There are 27 people living at Golden Years, Bell said.
Three organizations, including Shackleford's, have approached the attorney general and Bell with proposals to take over operations of the personal care home.
After reviewing the proposals, Bell said she thought Shackleford had the financial ability and management expertise to take over the home, which could need up to $850,000 in repairs.
Shackleford has owned Venture Home Again in Paintsville for 17 years. The Paintsville home has about 50 residents and has not been cited by state inspectors in six years for violations related to resident care, he said.
Also on Friday, James Asher, an attorney who represents former Golden Years administrator James "Chum" Tackett, questioned whether the attorney general's office had the legal authority to pursue both civil and criminal complaints against Golden Years and Tackett.
The attorney general's office has accused Tackett of pocketing state and federal payments that were intended for residents.
Asher said state law prohibits prosecutors from pursuing both criminal and civil cases against a person or entity. Wright overruled Asher but said he might look at the issue again.
"What this case is about is publicity and press releases," Asher said.
Allison Gardner Martin, a spokeswoman for Conway, dismissed Asher's accusation.
"The actions taken by the Office of the Attorney General have been and continue to be about protecting the health and safety of the residents," she said.
Marsha Hockensmith, the director of Protection and Advocacy, an independent state agency that advocates for the mentally ill and mentally disabled, said in an interview earlier this week that her staff visited the facility July 27 to check on residents.
Hockensmith said Protection and Advocacy still has grave concerns about conditions at the home and for the safety of the residents.
"There continue to be issues. I just don't see how it could be gotten up to par," Hockensmith said.
She said representatives of her agency talked to the sisters of one woman who had lived at Golden Years for two or three years.
"They expressed disbelief that this place was allowed to continue to operate," she said.
Problems at the personal care home go back more than four years, but state health inspectors continued to allow the home to operate.
Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said closing a facility is pursued only when all other options to compel compliance have been exhausted.
"This is due to the effect a facility closure has on a community and that moves or changes can be difficult on the residents involved," she said.
Troubles at the home include two former administrators who face felony charges, the death of a resident who walked away from the home and froze, and several state health violations.
James Tackett faces federal and state charges for allegedly taking more than $500,000 from money intended for the residents who lived at the facility. He has pleaded not guilty.
Former administrator Jonah Tackett was charged in July with two counts of bribing a witness and other felonies. He is set to be arraigned Aug. 17 in Letcher Circuit Court.
On Wednesday, Asher filed a motion to disqualify Conway from prosecuting James Tackett in the criminal proceedings in Letcher Circuit Court. The motion will be heard Sept. 14.
In December, inspectors with the cabinet's Office of Inspector General found that Kool-Aid had dripped on the top of insulin bottles and that medications 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.
In June, Wright granted an emergency protection order requested by Conway's office. The attorney general's office sought the order under its authority as the regulator of non-profit groups in Kentucky.
Bell was appointed the receiver and took over day-to-day operations at the facility.
Records obtained from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services under the state's Open Records Act show that problems have continued since January, when the Herald-Leader first wrote about the personal care home's woes.
Cabinet officials repeatedly asked Jonah Tackett to provide plans of correction for problems found at the home. Those plans of correction were rejected repeatedly by the state.
In June, the home was given two Type A citations — the state's most serious — for failing to have adequate staff to supervise residents and for not having proper procedures for sterilizing diabetic medications.
Records also show that the home continued to have problems feeding residents.
When state inspectors visited the home in June, they found Hardee's bags in the trash. Staff told investigators that they often didn't have a cook and were sent to Hardee's to buy burgers and fries for residents.