Group homes operator shut down by the state

The state yesterday ordered an operator of group homes for the developmentally disabled to shut down, the second time in a week it has taken such action against a company accused of substandard care.

Diane K. Coughlin, director of the Developmental Disabilities Administration, ordered Parkville-based Netcon & Earthkins Inc. to cease operations by Sept. 15. Last week, Coughlin revoked the license of Baltimore-based Autumn Homes Inc.


Each company serves about 30 people with developmental disabilities in homes throughout the Baltimore region.

During a hearing yesterday, Netcon & Earthkins' attorney, Darlene Davies, and its executive director, Christian Duru, rebutted a host of allegations brought by the state Office of Health Care Quality, among them that the company mishandled residents' money and failed to report and fully investigate several serious incidents. Davies did, however, apologize for the company's taking nearly 12 hours to bring a resident to the hospital after she fell out of bed and broke her leg and was left screaming in pain.


"That was horrible," Davies said, adding that the staff person responsible was suspended. "There is no excuse for what happened."

Nonetheless, she portrayed a company that has done its best to serve an exceptionally difficult population of residents, many of them with severe behavior problems in addition to brain damage and physical ailments.

But Carol Benner, director of the Office of Health Care Quality, responded: "We're not talking about an isolated event. We're talking about scores."

Benner said "a total lack of supervision" enabled residents to frequently run away, including a convicted sex offender and pedophile who escaped at least 47 times since July 2003. Coughlin ordered that resident to move to the Rosewood Center in Owings Mills, pending consultation with a judge. Rosewood, an institution for the developmentally disabled, has about 40 residents accused of major crimes.

Netcon & Earthkins has the right to appeal to the Office of Administrative Hearings. Autumn Homes waived that right last fall when it signed a settlement agreement promising improvement.

Davies said after yesterday's hearing she would have to consult with the nonprofit operator's board of directors before deciding whether to appeal and seek an injunction.