Man's Close Call Leads To Group Home Investigation

Man's Close Call Leads To Group Home Investigation

By Jennifer Kraus. CREATED Nov 21, 2013

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Tennessee regulators have opened an investigation into what happened to a severely disabled man at a Murfreesboro group home.

This comes after NewsChannel 5 Investigates began questioning an incident that, the man's family says, nearly cost him his life.

For all of his life, Alanzo Blake has had to depend on others to take care of him. The 34-year-old man was born with cerebral palsy and profound mental retardation.

His family turned to Tennessee Family Solutions, a Nashville based company that, according to its website, is "dedicated to providing" to people with "severe disabilities" with "high quality care and services."

But Blake's family has sued TFS, claiming the people who were supposed to be caring for him instead abused and neglected him.

Attorney Parke Morris represents the family.

"The family views it as almost a miracle that he actually survived this incident," Morris said.

The attorney described how Blake's stepfather went to visit Blake at the TFS run group home in Murfreesboro, where he was supposed to be getting round-the-clock care, and found him unconscious in his bed.

"One of the most disturbing things is that it was the family that actually had to intervene and demand that he be sent to the hospital," Morris said.

But even more disturbing, Morris said, is what ER doctors found.

According to Blake's medical records, he was suffering from pneumonia, profound dehydration, acute renal or kidney failure, and malnutrition which the doctor wrote "appears to be significant." The doctor also noted "I do not think that he developed all these abnormalities overnight...I am wondering if there is some component of neglect here."

Morris stated, "There's no doubt that it took him days to get this way."

And he added that made no sense to Blake's mother.

"Alanzo's mother who was not able to visit him because she'd had a bad cold had been calling everyday, 'How's he doing? Is he getting his meals?' And they told her repeatedly, 'He's fine. No problem,'" Morris recounted.

What also doesn't make sense to the family is this: State law requires agencies like TFS to let regulators know any time a resident is sent to the hospital and why.

But what TFS told the state was that Alanzo was sent to the hospital only with pneumonia. There's no mention of malnutrition, dehydration, renal failure or suspected neglect.

The incident report filed by TFS also stated that employees reported Blake "hasn't been eating or drinking."

Attorney Morris said the family wanted to confirm that in the hospital and looked at Blake's records that TFS staff had brought with them.

"And when they looked at the chart to find out what type of food he had been receiving, it was blank," Morris said.

Yet, after the family sued Tennessee Family Solutions, Morris said, those same records indicated Blake had been regularly eating and drinking. There's no mention of any problems.

"It's impossible to reconcile the records at the hospital with what the charts say is occurring and that is going to be a question that the employees at TFS will have to answer," Morris stated.

Tennessee Family Solutions said in a statement that it "strongly disagrees" with the lawsuit and that "abuse or neglect of any kind is not tolerated" by the company, but it did not explain what happened to Alanzo Blake.

The family's attorney, though, has his suspicions.

"I think the truthful answer is that we forgot about him because that's clearly what happened," Morris told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Blake ended up staying in the hospital nearly a month after the incident last year. When he was released, he was immediately moved to another group home and is now doing fine.

The state -- in this case, the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities -- said that it didn't investigate immediately after the incident because TFS only told them that he had pneumonia, which is pretty common in people with disabilities like him, and because he'd had it before so it didn't raise any red flags.

The state now says if they'd known about the other issues then, that would have prompted an immediate investigation.

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Jennifer Kraus

Jennifer Kraus

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Jennifer Kraus is NewsChannel 5's Weekend Morning Anchor and a member of NewsChannel 5's award-winning Investigative Team.