A News 5 investigation reveals that a state-licensed facility for people with severe mental health illnesses has significant problems which put the health and well-being of its residents at risk.
"Every morning I'd wake up, and there would be at least 10, at least 10 bed bugs," said Ed Bricker, a former resident of Care Circle on East 89th Street in Cleveland. Bricker documented his living conditions by taking photos and video.
"Care Circle is definitely one of the worst we've seen," said Kristen Henry, an attorney with Disability Rights Ohio, a nonprofit that acts as the state's protection arm for people with disabilities. The nonprofit has its own pictures of Care Circle.
Care Circle is one of nearly 300 adult care facilities, or ACFs, just in Cuyahoga County. It is licensed by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Care Circle's owners, Jeff and Juahmea Rivers, receive hundreds of thousands of state and federal tax dollars annually to operate their facilities.
Issues at Care Circle is emblematic to problems at other facilities that are tasked to be aid for those who are in capable of caring for themselves. Some facilities have had their licenses revoked or have been shut down due to issues with sanitation, staffing and criminal charges.
"This is a facility that has been given too many chances," said Henry. "They've been given too many opportunities."
Henry and her investigative team started making unannounced visits to Care Circle beginning in 2015 after they had received complaints about it. After each visit, they reported it back to the state. Henry said each visit has showed very little improvement.
"Why isn't this place being cleaned up?" she asked. "They've been notified of these violations over and over and over again."
"I actually considered going back to the homeless shelter because it was so bad," added Bricker who suffers from severe depression, bipolar, ADD and anxiety.
Bricker said life at Care Circle got even worse when staff let residents' medications run out without notifying them ahead of time.
"That was normal," he added. "That was the way that they did it."
News 5 made repeated requests to Care Circle's owners for an interview, but they refused.
"How can you take taxpayer money refusing to clean up these filthy houses?" asked News 5's Kristin Volk to Juahmea Rivers as she closed the door. "Look at these pictures. Would you live in a house like this?"
Rivers did not respond.
Sanitation problems at Care Circle date back to at least 2011, according to a state inspection report. Bricker moved in three years later - placed there by an organization funded by Cuyahoga County.
Records show the couple owes tens of thousands of dollars in back property taxes on Care Circle's four Cleveland facilities. Three of them are on East 89th Street. An additional one is on Forest Avenue.
The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services also refused repeated interview requests by News 5; instead, they released a statement:
“The health and safety of individuals receiving services at independently operated mental health facilities is something we take very seriously. When allegations of serious wrongdoing by providers are reported, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services thoroughly investigates, and where warranted, take decisive administrative action up to and including licensure revocation. The Department has halted admissions and initiated the legal process to revoke Care Circle’s license. We will continue to vigorously pursue corrective actions that uphold compliance with Ohio’s quality care standards.”
The state suspended Care Circle's right to admit new residents in June of 2015, then proposed to revoke its license in November of 2015.
But nearly a year later, Care Circle is still operating and still receiving taxpayer money despite claims by Disability Rights Ohio that the conditions at the three facilities on East 89th Street haven't changed.
The state also told News 5 that there is no longer a hearing scheduled with Care Circle's owners to discuss the proposed license revocation. Instead, state officials said the department is conducting ongoing work to help Care Circle correct its deficiencies.
"We think the department needs to take stronger action against these facilities who time after time fail to comply," said Henry.
News 5's investigation reveals that Care Circle hasn't been the only problematic state-licensed facility in Northeast Ohio.
Lizzie's Place in East Cleveland is also on suspension of admission for leaving residents unattended without staff in the home.
New management is taking over Simmons Adult Care, with six locations in Cleveland and Parma. The change was made after the state proposed to revoke the facilities' licenses due to sanitation problems as well as the criminal past of the owner and staff.
Haven in Shaker Heights is also now closed. The owner of the facility relinquished the license after the state handed over a suspension of admission notice. Official documents indicate that state investigators found the kitchen sink full of dirty water and garbage, a toilet soiled with feces and filthy conditions in the bathrooms.
The state did not renew the license of Purity Health, a Cleveland-based facility, when officials found that it was owned and operated by Dr. Lonnie Marsh, who is permanently excluded from owning, operating, managing or being employed at an ACF. Documents show that Marsh had his medical license permanently revoked for Medicaid fraud, forgery and illegal possession of drug documents.
Officials also said that the owner of ELOC Cole I and ELOC Cole II, in Cleveland, and The Farmington, in East Cleveland, is appealing the state's decision to revoke the facilities' license. The three homes were shut down in May when the state said staff stole money from a resident.
Bricker is no longer at Care Circle. He now lives at another facility, after he said he complained enough to county officials. But he worries about others, just like him, who suffer from mental illness. Yet unlike him, they can't advocate for themselves. Or they don't know how.
"There are people with mental health issues that really need services and help, and they're being exploited and taken advantage of," he said. "They live in these squalor conditions. That's just unacceptable. That's why I'm speaking out."