Restraining order shuts down unlicensed group home

A restraining order has been placed against an unlicensed group home operating under alleged deplorable conditions on Valley Home Road.

The court granted the restraining order, which allowed for the closing of the business, at the request of Attorney General Dan Armstrong after several attempts were made to force the business owner and operator to cease operations until conditions were met.

Officials had been aware of alleged unlawful conditions for months when a deputy state fire marshal inspection on March 11 revealed multiple, serious violations.

The business, which had been constructed in 1969 as a single-family, ranch-style home, housed 13 residents, one of which lacked the capability for self-preservation. Further, the facility lacked a fire alarm system, sprinklers and did not have adequate space for sleeping units. People were also being housed in window-less rooms that did not provide the opportunity for rescue or means of egress.

Finally the sewer system was backed up in the basement and seeping into the backyard.

The same day an electrical inspection outlined 11 violations.

Then-owner Zonna Gilbert was notified of the deficiencies and told she had a day to submit a plan of action. Further, she was told that all sleeping rooms that lacked windows were not to be occupied.

According to court documents, the plan of action submitted failed to address the immediate safety issues at the facility and was rejected.

On March 19, a nurse employed by the state inspected the facility which had 11 residents and only one working bathroom. One bedroom housed three women while five men occupied the living room. Another bedroom had four beds but only three residents.

During the visit, it was revealed that Gilbert and another caregiver regularly administer insulin injections to one resident.

Jessica Daniel admitted giving another resident insulin injections even though she was unlicensed to do so. The inspector noted the facility did not employ any licensed personnel despite housing four bed-bound residents as well as residents who need assistance with medications, bathing and grooming and arranging medical appointments.

A follow up visit on March 29, revealed electrical work underway without the proper permits.

On March 31, Commissioner Carter Lawrence ruled the facility was especially liable to fire and ordered Gilbert to cease use and occupation of the facility in any capacity until plans had been submitted and approved.

Following the order, public utility services to the facility were cut April 12, the same day Gilbert presented officials with a document transferring ownership to Jessica Daniel.

On April 14, officials observed the facility continuing to operate using a generator for power. The facility continued to house at least one vulnerable adult. Daniel said she’d collected rent form the residents and gave Gilbert $5,000 to purchase the facility.

The facility arrived on state officials radar in January when they received a complaint regarding the treatment of Earl Begley, a patient with a history of lung and brain cancer who had trouble walking and who had been placed in the basement of the facility.

Begley had been discharged from a Harlan, Ky. Hospital in early January. Begley had been a the Valley Home Road facility for two weeks when his family visited on January 23. They found Begley in the basement, housed with three other men. He was partially undressed, unbathed and soaked in urine. He was unable to walk or talk and could only point to communicate.

The family found his luggage, containing his clothing, untouched upstairs exactly in the same state it had been when he was admitted two weeks earlier.

Begley was transported back to the Harlan County, Kentucky facility where he was admitted as a hospice patient with COVID-19, an elevated white blood cell count and dehydration.

According to Armstrong’s filing, Hamblen County’s E-911 has received multiple calls concerning the facility dating back to July of 2020, including one call in which the “possibly intoxicated” house manager was doing CPR on a resident.

No charges have been filed, in the case, Armstrong said as the original focus was to get the residents to safety.

However, charges are under consideration.