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Gallegos May Seek Care Home Legislation : Regulations: The assemblyman says the state may need to require better staff training. El Monte facility in his district was closed after a killing occurred there.

March 23, 1995|RENEE TAWA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Gabriel Valley assemblyman is looking into sponsoring legislation to require board and care homes for the mentally ill to have staff who are trained in working with psychiatric patients.

Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Irwindale) became interested in tightening regulations on board and care homes after the Dahlia Gardens Guest Home in El Monte--his district--was closed because of a long record of violations, including failure to supervise a diagnosed schizophrenic who now is accused of killing another resident of the home.

A Dahlia Gardens administrator knew that the accused man had been hearing voices that told him to kill, Gallegos said.

But a state Department of Social Services supervisor told Gallegos' staff in a meeting last week that the administrator of Dahlia Gardens Guest Home failed to understand the significance of the alleged killer's condition.

"Apparently, because of lack of training, he gave that (statement about voices) very little regard," Gallegos said.

Board and care operators are required only to have a high school diploma, some college or continuing education credits and three years of experience in residential care--not necessarily with the mentally ill. They are not required to have psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers on staff. Dahlia Gardens had no mental health experts.

Gallegos has asked the Social Services Department for a report on its handling of Dahlia Gardens, which was shut down March 2 for violations of state code. The home's latest citation followed a Feb. 8 incident in which 34-year-old LaRay Anthony King allegedly beat to death his former roommate, Leonard Sutton, 34. At the time, the lone staff member on duty for 73 residents was washing dishes in another building. King, who was charged with murder, had spent time in a psychiatric ward during the two months before the killing.

Dahlia Gardens administrator Karl Hoffman has declined to comment since the state action. His attorney, Doug Otto, did not return calls seeking comment.

Martha Lopez, a deputy director for the Department of Social Services, declined to comment specifically on the meeting with Gallegos' staff, saying officials plan to respond to the assemblyman in writing.

Department officials plan to submit a report to Gallegos on the Dahlia Gardens case within a month, she said. They also plan to meet with his staff to discuss possible legislative action to tighten licensing standards for board and care homes.

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