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November 27, 2014

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Neighbors, regulators look beyond tragedy to see good within group homes

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Leila Navidi

A resident walks down the hall at Sweet Home Belmont, an assisted living facility for seniors in Henderson on Tuesday, January 22, 2013.

Assisted-Living Group Home

Residents watch television before dinner at Sweet Home Belmont, an assisted living facility for seniors in Henderson on Tuesday, January 22, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Few neighbors knew Washington Senior Guest Home existed until tragedy struck Dec. 30.

That morning, Jeremy Hargis woke to the sound of sirens wailing down his street on Washington Avenue near Valley View Drive. When he looked outside, he saw dozens of police cars and ambulances swarming the home a few doors down. Later, he saw a body wheeled out of the house.

Initially he feared it was a robbery gone wrong.

“We woke up and saw the whole block was full of cop cars,” said Hargis, who has two children. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

It wasn’t until later he learned what all the commotion was about. David H. Settle, 68, one of several residents living in the licensed adult group-care home, bludgeoned a caretaker and fellow resident to death with a hammer, a Metro Police arrest report stated.

Until then, Hargis said the one-story home with a white fence was quiet; the only activity he ever saw were nurses arriving each day.

Donna McGeachy lives a block from the group home. She said she had no idea it was an assisted-living home until she saw the news online.

The fact that it was a group home that caters to up to eight elderly residents who need living assistance meant little to the neighbors.

“It was an odd thing,” McGeachy said. “It could have happened anywhere. You can’t shield yourself from these types of things.”

The tragedy that befell the Washington Senior Guest Home shouldn’t take away from the good adult group-care facilities provide, said Wendy Simons, chief of the Nevada State Health Division’s Bureau of Health Care Quality and Compliance. These homes offer men and women the individual attention they need with the freedoms of living on their own.

“Because of the regulatory oversight, there’s already neighbor accountability put in,” Simons said. “These are people here by circumstance of aging, who would’ve been your neighbor in a different way, but now they are in a group-living home where assistance is provided.”

There are more than 170 group homes in Clark County, which include living arrangements ranging from halfway homes for recovering drug abusers to adult group care homes. Each is licensed by the Nevada State Health Division and must meet a series of stringent requirements.

Washington Senior Guest Home is a licensed facility owned by Emily and Claudio Tugas, both of whom declined to comment for this story. The facility provides services similar to Henderson group-care facility Sweet Home Belmont.

At Sweet Home Belmont, three rotating trained caregivers provide assistance to seven men and women aged 60 years and older. The caregivers cook the meals, make sure the residents take their medication and organize activities like cards and gardening.

Most of the time, though, the residents like to lounge in the living room and watch their morning soaps. Sweet Home Belmont owner Nana Gyeabour said he used to work in large assisted-living facilities until he decided he wanted to make a more personal impact on residents.

The group home has allowed him to do just that.

“I get connected and know I’m making some impacts on them,” Gyeabour said. “It’s something that is within me and in my heart that I want to stay on until my retirement days.”

Adult group-care facilities operate under strict guidelines to prevent mistreatment of their residents.

Those interested in operating such homes must undergo criminal background reviews by the FBI and take pre-licensure training, and their homes must be staffed with trained caregivers, among other requirements. Facility requirements also must be met, and the homes then undergo an annual inspection, similar to a health inspection, in which they receive a letter grade that must be posted inside.

In short, most owners willing to meet all the requirements are dedicated to health care, Simons said.

“The types of people who open these homes are usually people who have health care experience or a passion for taking care of people,” Simons said. “They might be retired nurses or current nurses, experienced in giving.”

They also are as safe a place to live next to as any other home or apartment complex. Metro Police Officer Laura Meltzer said there are no data that indicate more crimes occur at a group home than any other home or apartment.

Since 2009, Washington Senior Group Home has been graded as an “A” facility — the highest grade possible. Simons said the double-homicide was a freak tragedy that couldn’t have been predicted.

“When you get to the type of individuals that would live in a group home, they really are individuals,” Simons said. “That very same situation could’ve happened if he was living in his own home.”

Settle, who faces two charges of murder with a deadly weapon, is undergoing psychological testing. Preliminary results indicate he suffers from vascular dementia, a disease associated with Alzheimer’s disease, public defender Scott Coffee said.

Still, in a neighborhood where there are rumors of drugs and home break-ins, the discovery that Settle lived in a group home doesn’t change anything for McGeachy and Hargis. They believe it was a unique tragedy that wasn’t the result of the living situation.

Instead, McGeachy feels the facility provides an important role for the community.

“It definitely fills a need in our society,” McGeachy said of group homes. “And it’s quiet and fits in our neighborhood. I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

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