People First of Oregon       

Fairview: The Closing Chapter


Salem group home fell into dysfunction
FORCED CLOSURE: Movers carry residents’ furniture and belongings after the home operated by Agape Enterprises Inc. was closed Dec. 22.
RON COOPER / Statesman Journal file

A home that didn’t work A home operated by Agape Enterprises Inc. was forced to close after county officials found poor living conditions and verbal abuse. Glenda Stout thought she had found her niche when she starting working at the Salem group home run by Agape Enterprises Inc.

“The guys were great,” she said, referring to a dozen developmentally disabled residents who formerly lived at the home. “I thought, here’s my calling. I’ll do this for the rest of my life.”

Instead, a dismayed Stout quit after 14 months, stepping down in February 1999. “I just got fed up with the drug use and the dysfunction,” she said.

Around Christmas, the county got fed up with the Agape group home, too.

Numerous problems, ranging from substandard living conditions to improper tracking of medication and verbal abuse of residents, prompted the county to cancel its operating contract on Dec. 22. That same day, officials removed all of the residents from the home at 1415 Fourth St. NE and relocated them.

State mental health officials responsible for overseeing Oregon’s group home system characterized Agape as a rare case of a bad home. They said state and county oversight worked properly to force its closure.

“During the last year, it just got beyond the point to where we thought it could be salvaged,” said James Toews of the state Office of Developmental Disability Services.

Robert Savoie of Salem, who operated the group home for many years, declined to discuss its closure.

Stout said she was horrified when she came across a staff member injecting drugs at the group home. Later, she was appalled again when her boyfriend said he found a makeup compact containing heroin while doing maintenance work at the home.

“That’s when I started thinking this is really bad,” Stout said. “I’m a recovering addict. I used to do heroin. I just told myself, ‘I’m not going to stay here.’ I hated leaving the guys because I felt like they needed somebody who was at least stable.”

Allegations of alcohol and heroin use by group home staff also appear in a Marion County investigation report. One witness told county investigators that a supervisor in the home admitted using heroin and was trying to stop. Another witness said the supervisor came to the home “totally drunk.”

According to the county’s October 1999 investigation report, the supervisor denied the allegations, saying she may have exhibited side effects caused by her use of anti-depressant medications.

The county investigation did not substantiate the drug use complaints. It focused on alleged mistreatment of residents.

Worrisome group homes like Agape tend to draw repeat state inspections. Between January 1998 and January 2000, Agape was one of 27 group homes to undergo follow-up visits from licensing staff, state records show.

In most cases, officials said, multiple inspections lead to improvements instead of closure.

“Statewide, we probably have two or three homes we shut down a year,” Toews said. “Often, those aren’t even license revocations. We just negotiate and get them to give up the contract.”

In all, the state oversees more than 500 residential programs for people with developmental disabilities. “I think for the most part it’s pretty good,” Toews said of the community-based housing system. “At any given time, there are a group of community programs that we’re real concerned about and have got a real tight leash on until they either improve or ultimately go out of business.”

Marion County canceled its contract with Agape after two state inspections last year. The reviews occurred in August and October. Among the problems cited in the inspection reports:

•Poor living conditions. One report stated: “House is generally dirty; pantry cupboard door in poor condition; oven and stove are dirty; carpet is stained; downstairs ceiling has stains; downstairs bathroom has mold; bathtub in poor condition.”

•Medication irregularities; missing medications; and mistakes by staff resulting in residents taking the wrong pills.

•Failure to conduct criminal history background checks on new employees.

•Lack of documentation showing that staff received required training.

•Inattention to the psychiatric needs of residents.

•Failure to submit timely incident reports to authorities.

Under administrative rules that set standards for group homes, incident reports are required for “medication irregularities, injury, accident, act of physical aggression or unusual incident involving an individual.” These reports must be sent to county case managers within five working days of the incident.

Agape’s problems were compounded by reports of a veteran house manager verbally abusing residents.

Witnesses described instances in which she referred to residents as pigs, idiots and retards, according to records from a Marion County protective service investigation.

When some residents acted up, records show, the manager threatened to kick them out or send them to Fairview Training Center. The county investigation substantiated that the house manager had verbally abused residents.

Mental health officials said Agape generally was considered a competent group home prior to making a gradual descent.

“Historically, I think they provided some pretty good services,” Toews said. “They had really dedicated staff through the years, but I think it gradually went downhill over several years and a lot of them quit in frustration.”

This article was by ALAN GUSTAFSON was published in the Salem Statesman Journal, March 12, 2000