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Neighbors Complain About Home for Mental Patients

January 19, 1986|NANCY GRAHAM | Times Staff Writer

At least 70 angry Mar Vista residents have complained to city officials that mental patients at a nearby nursing home are unsupervised and cause a disturbance in their residential neighborhood.

They aired their grievances at a hearing held Tuesday by the Los Angeles Planning Commission on whether the Meadowbrook Manor Nursing Home should have its conditional-use permit revoked.

The hearing was ordered by the chief zoning administrator after Councilwoman Pat Russell reported that she had received numerous complaints from neighbors about the 77-bed facility at 3951 East Blvd., Mar Vista.

Neighbors said that patients throw objects over the walls, copulate in front of windows and wander the streets at will. Screaming and cursing coming from the Meadowbrook grounds and building can be heard at all hours, they said.

Meadowbrook representatives said new management has taken over and new methods of operation have been instituted, along with new security measures.

Zoning administration investigator Paul Mullis said he has compiled a list of the institution's repeated violations of state and county regulations for the care of the mentally ill.

He told hearing officer William Lillenberg that a 1955 conditional-use permit restricted the sanitarium to treating patients classified as no worse than "mildly mental."

Neighbors, however, said that some of the patients are violent and frightening.

A spokeswoman for Councilwoman Russell said, "I have files back to 1980-81, when I started getting complaints from the neighbors about strange goings on at Meadowbrook Manor."

Complaints included instances of cars and taxi cabs coming and going at all hours and patients scaling a 10-foot fence surrounding the sanitarium and jumping into neighbors' yards.

Residents said that nursing home administrators did not respond to their complaints. When they made reports to the police, they said police told them there was nothing they could do.

Sgt. William O'Keefe of the Pacific Division of the Los Angeles Police Department said at the hearing that he went to the nursing home in June, 1984, to help other officers subdue a violent patient.

"I suggested the facility was not properly laid out," O'Keefe said. "There were no restraining straps and the Police Department is not equipped to respond to violent mental patients."

About six parents of Meadowbrook patients said that after years of mental illness, their children have shown the first signs of improvement after being admitted to the sanitarium.

"What do we do? Put them between Las Vegas and Barstow, so nobody will be disturbed?" one parent asked.

"My son has been disturbed for 15 years," one man said. "He was in places like Norwalk, Camarillo. This is the best place for him so far. Parents can come and help and observe. It's better than Patton or Camarillo. The staff is pleasant and cooperative."

Former Los Angeles City Councilman Art Snyder, an attorney, appeared on behalf of Meadowbrook Manor and Newport Federal, a holding company for 18 facilities, including Meadowbrook, operating under the name American Health Centers.

Snyder said that new management and medical staff have taken over the operation of Meadowbrook, including Paul Edgren, who in July became president of American Health Centers.

Six Remain

"In April, 1985, we identified 22 people who would not meet the definition of mildly mentally disabled (as required under the home's conditional zoning permit)," Snyder said. "There has been an effort since April to discharge these people into other institutions." Snyder said six remain in the facility.

There have been delays in relocating people who do not meet the criteria, Synder said, because of patient rights and liability exposure.

"The state of California, as long as they (the patients) have a place to lay their heads . . . is not cooperative in relocating," Snyder said.

He said that patients at Meadowbrook are divided into three categories: C, or entry level; B, when they are becoming acclimated to life outside of a hospital, and A , when they are being prepared to re-enter society.

The people seen on the streets, he said, are those who are preparing to leave the facility.

Because of community concerns, he said, even those people who are considered almost ready to leave the sanitarium will no longer be able go out without an escort, such as a family member, doctor or case worker.

Snyder said the new administration has also increased security. Fences are being extended and an alarm will be installed that will alert the nurses' station when patients leave Meadowbrook without authorization.

New Security

Sophisticated door and window security has been installed, he said, and new vertical blinds cover the windows. People who "have a tendency to open the blinds will be moved to the interior of the building." Trees are being planted to further obscure the windows.

"We are moving A students (people ready to go home) to the exterior. If that doesn't work, we will totally obscure the windows," Snyder said.

To eliminate the possibility of nighttime disturbances, patients will not be allowed outside the building between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.

"We are asking that these conditions be made part of (the) conditions for operation of the facilities," Snyder said.

Lillenberg granted a 24-day extension to give the owners time to prepare written answers to the allegations of neighbors and inspectors. He will then decide what conditions of operation should be imposed on the home. Later, if the owners fail to comply, Lillenberg has the authority to close it down.

Lillenberg said the Meadowbrook property was the site of an orphanage in 1926. Later, it became a convalescent home for the elderly. It continues to exist in the middle of a community of large, well-kept homes because of zoning it received in 1926.

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