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Care Facility for Mentally Ill Closed by State

May 17, 1990|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

State officials shut down a Glendale facility housing about 140 mentally ill adults on Wednesday, charging that it violated fire regulations and that its staff failed to adequately supervise a resident who committed suicide in April.

Residents of the Glendale Los Feliz Plaza, 205 E. Los Feliz Road, were moved to other facilities after its operators were presented with the temporary suspension order by representatives of the Community Care Licensing Division of the California Department of Social Services.

In the order, Fred Miller, deputy director of the division, said conditions at Los Feliz Plaza "exposed residents to an unacceptable and immediate risk of harm."

Lydia Thomas, manager of the division's San Fernando Valley district office, said about 30 social workers and staff members went to the center Wednesday morning to assist in transferring the residents. In the hallways, residents awaiting relocation stood beside suitcases, boxes and plastic bags containing their belongings.

Thomas said the transfer went smoothly and enough rooms were available for Los Feliz Plaza residents at other facilities.

But, Robert Federico, administrator of Los Feliz Plaza, said, "We were caught unaware. Nobody told us this would happen. I don't know why it's so sudden. Even the residents are in chaos."

Federico said the facility's staff had been preparing to meet with state officials Wednesday to resolve problems cited by state investigators and Glendale fire inspectors during the past three months.

"This is not justified at all," he said.

A legal accusation prepared by the state charged that the facility might have prevented the apparent suicide of resident Michael Hall, 35, on April 24 had it kept him under adequate supervision. Hall died after he jumped from a second-story balcony.

Hall had been screaming for several hours before jumping but the center's staff did not respond, the accusation said. Other residents saw the man walking to the balcony and tried to contact the Los Feliz Plaza staff with an intercom system but the intercom did not work, the document said.

This past Sunday, a second apparent suicide occurred at the facility. According to a Glendale police report, Paul W. Kert, 23, was found dead in his room. His roommate told police Kert had been talking about suicide on Saturday and became ill after telling the roommate he had inhaled acetylene at a construction site.

The second suicide was not mentioned in the documents served on Wednesday, but state officials said the incident was under investigation. Adult residential care centers provide supervision to people who cannot handle their basic daily needs, but the residents are not locked in.

On May 9 the Glendale Fire Department denied Los Feliz Plaza a fire clearance, which is required by the state for continued operation. State officials said previous fire code violations contributed to "life-threatening fires" at the facility on Feb. 8 and Feb. 13, 1990 and May 31, 1989.

In a follow-up visit on Monday, Glendale fire inspectors visited Los Feliz Plaza and found safety problems including an inoperable fire alarm system, an inadequate backup power system for the fire alarm and empty fire extinguishers on the second and third floors.

State officials also cited the facility for failing to report an incident last September in which a resident threatened "the health and safety of herself and others," prompting staff members to call police to remove her.

In addition, the staff failed to inform state officials about a robbery, four missing residents and two serious fights involving residents, the document said.

Robert Gerst, attorney for Edmar Enterprises, which operates the facility, said he was preparing to meet with state and Glendale officials this week and was not aware that Los Feliz Plaza was to be shut down Wednesday. The principal owners of Edmar Enterprises are Edward and Martha Keh of Glendale.

"I'm really shocked and surprised they did this," he said. "I think it was unfortunate because within a really short period of time, they would have been able to get some type of fire clearance."

Gerst said many of the fire code violations uncovered Monday were repaired immediately after the inspectors' visit.

He said the state's charge that the Los Feliz Plaza staff did not properly supervise the resident who killed himself in April was "a totally inaccurate conclusion."

The attorney said the owners hoped to correct any problems and reopen the facility as soon as possible.

Los Feliz Plaza provided supervised care to senior citizens until last year, when it became licensed to house up to 200 mentally disordered adults between the ages of 18 and 59. It is one of about 4,300 adult residential care facilities in California that serve about 38,000 clients. Kathleen Norris, spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services, said that Los Angeles County has more than 1,000 such facilities and that nine had their licenses revoked in 1989. Another seven were placed on probation, she said.

In March and April, state investigators cited Los Feliz Plaza for problems such as commingling the facility's money with that belonging to residents, allowing unlicensed personnel to give injections to diabetics, possessing unlabeled medication containers and having various maintenance deficiencies, according to state records.

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