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Mental Health, Story Three: Living in Squalor

Peggye Mosley, has chronic depression and is a resident of a group home in Eastern Kansas City. She says her first group home living experience was terrible but she says she is happier now at her current home.
Kelley Weiss/KCUR
Peggye Mosley, has chronic depression and is a resident of a group home in Eastern Kansas City. She says her first group home living experience was terrible but she says she is happier now at her current home.

By Kelley Weiss


Kansas City, MO –


Over the last two days a KCUR investigation has told the stories of corruption and neglect in many of Missouri's group homes for the mentally ill. Our investigation uncovered at least five group home residents deaths because of this neglect. In the third story of our mental health series, KCUR's Kelley Weiss reports from inside one of these group homes to give a window into daily life.

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Many people liken a group home to a boarding home - they're large houses or facilities where anywhere from 10 too 100 of the state's poorest and severely mentally ill are fed, sheltered and given medication. They come and go as they please and report varying living experiences.

That's Tricia, she lives at a group home in Midtown Kansas City, Campbell Care. Campbell Care is one of the only group homes that would allow me to visit. It's a hot afternoon in June and residents sit on porch with pealing paint in mismatched, rusty chairs smoking cigarettes. It's close to dinner time.

Inside Campbell Care it smells like urine and sweat. The furniture is tattered. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services state cited this facility for 27 violations in 2006. And, this year for 12 violations. The citations ranged from rodent and insect infestations - to faulty fire alarm systems and filthy resident rooms.

With guidance of advocates and mental health professionals, KCUR picked seven group homes that experts said were some of the best and worst in the Kansas City area and reviewed thousands of pages of Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services documents, called statements of deficiencies, dating back to 2004. Since this January, KCUR found one group home had as many 68 violations. That was Thompson Care Center at 33rd and Paseo. The Cedars of Liberty, in Liberty, had the least with 9 violations.

But, these violations are not exclusive to the Kansas City area. In fact, records show similar infractions happening across the state with deadly implications.

Since 2004, Department of Health and Senior Services state reports show at least five residents died in group homes from alleged abuse or neglect.

Debra Cheshier, at the Department of Health and Senior Services in Jefferson City is in charge of regulation of group homes. She says she is aware of these deaths and her department is working to prevent more.

Debra Cheshier: "I could talk with you about what percentage those deaths represent of the total number of residents but I will tell you when you get down to having harm or injury and worst of all death - deaths that were preventable - numbers don't even begin, in my opinion, to address how unacceptable, tragic and absolutely deplorable that is."

DHSS reports show, in the last three and a half years the state has fined five group homes serving the mentally ill for resident deaths. In January of this year, a report shows a resident died in a St. Louis group home by suicide. In 2006, reports show, in Saint Louis a resident died from a medication error and lack of CPR and in Huntsville a resident died of pneumonia after getting inadequate medical treatment. In 2005, in Hannibal, DHSS cited a group home for improper oversight of a resident who committed suicide. And, in 2004, in Excelsior Springs, the state fined a group home for not administering CPR to Diane Class when she went into cardiac arrest.

The director of the Department of Mental Health, Keith Schafer, says that group homes are struggling to survive. The state usually pays about half of residents average $1,000 room and board while Social Security disability checks cover the rest. Schafer says the state has not significantly increased funding for cost of living expenses in more than 20 years. On top of that, he says typically employees get paid 25 percent less than caregivers in other jobs. He says his goal is to move people out of group homes over the next five years.

Keith Schafer: "We have huge housing problems in this state for persons with mental illness. The Residential Care Facilities are a reflection of our failure in that public policy issue. We've got to get better at providing housing opportunities for people and get them out of large congregate settings that are very marginal."

But, back at Campbell Care the facility administrator Danny Davis says he wonders when those improvements will happen. Davis is a private contractor with the state - as are most group home administrators. He says he can't hire the staff he needs or make improvements on his old, run down facility. He's a clean-cut guy who describes himself as a businessman barely able to pay his bills.

Danny Davis: "I've been thinking for the last 10 or 12 years here that the Department of Mental Health was going to really take a look at the Residential Care Facilities and try to direct some of that funding to us, and that just hasn't happened. It's not a very pretty picture in my opinion or not a very positive one."

Reports show people with mental illness continue to suffer, living in squalor, having their money mismanaged and sometimes dying from neglect. Officials and administrators say the state is in a housing crisis but say there is no simple solution. Hospitals are cutting back psychiatric beds and mental health professionals all agree there is not enough money to properly care for the mentally ill. And, without resources, these patients, who the system has failed so many times before, often end up on the streets or in jail.

Funding for health care coverage on KCUR has been provided by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

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