Raided Grand Bay group home was not subject to state, local regulation

Updated: May. 27, 2020 at 6:27 PM CDT
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GRAND BAY, Ala. (WALA) – A house where the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office alleges veterans lived in “deplorable” conditions was not certified as a group home, according to state and local authorities.

The Sheriff’s Office charged the owner of the home in Grand Bay, Donny Owens, with one count of first-degree elderly abuse and neglect, and five counts of elderly abuse and second-degree neglect.

Capt. Paul Burch, the lead investigator for the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, told FOX10 News deputies found a document among hundreds seized Tuesday identifying the business as Square One Life Management LLC. He said there was no record that it has been certified.

A call to the business Wednesday went unanswered. The business is registered to Tilena Owens, the wife of the man arrested Tuesday. Burch said she is a nurse who told authorities she was out of town for work.

Malissa Valdes-Hubert, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Mental Health, said her agency never has certified that facility as a group home.

“The term ‘group home,’ I will say, is used loosely and widely,” she said.

Although all six of the men who were living at the facility in Grand Bay, Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Bob Horton said his agency had nothing to do with the Grand Bay home or similar facilities.

“We are not involved in those group homes,” he said.

Horton said the department runs only the four state-owned veterans homes.

Still to be answered is how the men came to be living at the home in Grand Bay.

“Unfortunately, we just haven’t gotten those answers yet,” Burch said.

He told FOX10 News the residents told deputies they had been there from a few months to a couple of years. One resident told investigators he didn’t know how he ended up there, Burch said. But headed that several said they paid $700 a month.

Valdes-Hubert said only facilities meeting certain specifications are required to be certified by the Department of Mental Health.

Those requirements do not apply to facilities that simply operate as boarding homes. Tommy James, an attorney unconnected to the case, said boarding homes are not regulated by the state or most counties. He called it the “wild, wild west.”

Jefferson County, which does regulate boarding homes, defines them as facilities “which provide lodging, meals and/or other services for a valuable consideration.”

James represents the family of a resident of a Jefferson County boarding home who died in 2016. James won a judgment against the owner of that boarding home. A lawsuit against the Department of Human Resources is pending.

Burch said regardless of what the defendant calls the home, it is a violation of the law to take advantage of the elderly, withhold food and control their medication – all allegations that authorities have leveled in this case.

“That argument (that the home wasn’t subject to regulation) is not legitimate when the owners controlled their medication, controlled when they were fed and not fed,” he said.