For the second time in a month, the state health department has warned a suspected unlicensed assisted-living facility that it has 30 days to apply for a license or face possible criminal charges.
The operator of the group home, Toni L. Jones, was cited by the health department's Office of Health Care Quality for providing assisted-living services to five residents, each of whom has mental disorders.
In a letter informing Jones last week that she was in violation of licensing regulations, health officials reported finding five men at 7094 Macbeth Way in Eldersburg. Each resident suffered from schizophrenia, among other conditions, including asthma, depression, hypercholesterolemia and borderline diabetes. Most were on regimens of several daily medications.
Jones told state investigators that all five residents required supervision when taking their medications and assistance with money management, according to documents. She also said that four of the five residents paid her $600 a month "for care" and that the fifth paid nothing.
The state is investigating the residents' health and living conditions to determine whether sanctions - such as fines or criminal charges - are warranted.
If the residents "have health concerns, then at the very least [the operators] should be licensed," said Wendy Kronmiller, director of the Office of Health Care Quality, which licenses and certifies most types of health care facilities. "And if they're in bad circumstances or if they're at risk, then we'll do more. We are concerned when people, in addition to their mental illnesses, have or develop health care problems which require supports that they may not receive in an unlicensed setting."
Kronmiller's office oversees more than 1,300 licensed assisted-living facilities, but it has difficulty identifying and shutting down unlicensed operators. In the past two years, at least 30 such homes have been fined for not having licenses, but officials say they believe many more exist.
Last week, the health department reported that it was investigating the recent death of Donald F. Matthews, a mentally ill man who was residing in an unlicensed assisted-living facility in Lauraville. Assisted-living facilities provide supervision and services for adults who require help with medication, dressing, hygiene and other needs.
Most unlicensed homes come to the state's attention because of tips from neighbors or community activists.
Reached by phone, Jones said the health department is mistaken about the nature of her home.
"We're not assisted living, and we're not a group home," Jones said. "We're neither of those things."
She would not elaborate on why she was housing five men with mental illnesses, except to say that they had been homeless.
The men had been living about a week in the Eldersburg home - which, according to tax documents, is owned by Marcella L. Jones and Marthenia V. Jones - when the health department warned Toni Jones about the licensing regulations. The relationship between Marcella, Marthenia and Toni Jones was unclear.
Before that, the men had been living since July 2007 in a house in the Windsor Hills neighborhood of West Baltimore. Toni Jones said she moved them out of the Windsor Hills home because the electricity had been cut off.
Jones, who is listed as the resident agent of a locally based company called Lifespan Inc., rented the house at 2801 N. Loudon Ave. in her company's name.
Kronmiller said that Jones' company should not be confused with Maryland Lifespan, one of two trade associations in the state representing long-term care and assisted-living providers.
The owner of the Windsor Hills house, Toyin Bello, said Jones and her husband, Von Key, owe him close to $20,000 in unpaid rent and utility bills.
Jones said she stopped paying the rent last fall because the home was in disrepair and not fit for habitation.
"He's upset because the payment stopped," Jones said. "We were trying to find them another place to live. You have to be careful when you find people who are homeless a place to live."
Bello, who lives in Columbia and rents out several other houses in the Baltimore area, said Jones did not pay rent, buy food or toilet paper, or staff the house where the men lived.
On several occasions, Bello said, contractors sent to the Windsor Hills home to make repairs were turned away by one or more of the residents, who said they were not allowed to let anyone in without staff present.
"Every time I came there, they would always ask me for money. There was no telephone. There was no food," Bello said. "There was no toilet tissue inside the house so they would use paper. The toilet was blocked so many times. I feel very, very bad for their clients."
Inside the home, guidelines and rules were posted inside plastic sleeves, giving the residents emergency phone numbers and important instructions.
One posting instructed clients to "1. Walk quickly, quietly and calmly out of the group home. 2. Continue to walk until you get to the bus stop. 3. Wait at the bus stop until the staff comes to tell you that it is safe to return to the home."
On May 8 or 9, Bello said, BGE had shut off power to the house on North Loudon Avenue because of unpaid bills. By May 12, the residents had been moved to Eldersburg.
Lifespan Inc. has run into trouble before over unpaid rent.
Lifespan breached leases at four residences on Walden Willow Court in Baltimore County in 2006 and owes nearly $14,500 in back rent and damages, court records show. Jones never appeared in court to contest the claims of her landlord, Regional Management Inc. Since the May 2 judgment was issued, Lifespan has not paid the money ordered, records show.
Jones could not be reached for further comment about why Lifespan rented the four residences.
Sun reporter Doug Donovan contributed to this article.