August 31, 2013 11:51:11 PM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
An elderly woman sits hunched over in her wheelchair, alone except for a game show blaring on a television in the background. Unable to speak, her vacant stare seems to barely register your existence as drool slowly slides down her chin. Down a dark hallway, 11 more Home Place Personal Care Home residents sit quietly in their rooms, waiting for their family members to come and take them to another facility.
Last week, the Mississippi State Department of Health shut down the facility and gave residents 30 days to find a new place to live. According to employees, Home Place's owner, Dennis "Denny" Nooner left town earlier this week and hasn't been heard from since. Documents obtained by The Dispatch show Nooner has pleaded guilty to two counts of willful failure to collect or pay tax and was sentenced to serve two 30-month sentences for each count, which will run concurrently. Nooner must report to the United States Bureau of Prisons by Tuesday, documents show.
Additional documents show Home Place Personal Care Home is currently in foreclosure and is owned by LLP Mortgage.
An order filed in Lowndes County Chancery Court states that in March 2012, the department of health notified Nooner "that the Department intended to revoke his license to operate a personal care home due to willful and repeated violations of the Minimum Standards of Operations of Personal Care Homes."
Nooner requested a hearing to challenge the decision and two hearings were held in November and December of 2012. On May 16, the state revoked Nooner's license to operate Home Place. He appealed on May 23.
On Aug. 19, Judge Kenneth Burns signed an order granting an emergency motion to lift status quo and denying a motion to dismiss appeal.
The order states "...It is apparent that the best interests of the residents on Home Place of Columbus would be best served by lifting the status quo and removing them from this facility."
It further states, "Because the status quo has been lifted, the facility may no longer house residents pursuant to the license at issue on appeal" and continues by saying "All residents of Home Place of Columbus should be relocated within 30 days of this order."
On Aug. 27, a flyer was given to employees and families informing them of new management, Jessica Arnold and Donna Carter. The flyer does not mention the court order or the relocation of Home Place residents. The same day, Arnold and Carter sent a letter to residents' family members denying any "rumor" of closing, as well as asking for September payment.
Two days later, the department of health held a meeting with Home Place employees and family members and informed them that the facility was closing, despite what residents were told by Arnold and Carter.
A letter distributed during the meeting and obtained by The Dispatch said the nursing home was being shut down due to "willful non-compliance with Minimum Standard of Operation for Personal Care Homes."
According to an employee who wished to remain anonymous, Nooner was absent from the meeting. The employee said Nooner left the facility on Tuesday and has not been heard from since.
Home Place employed five nurses and twelve nurse's aides. It housed 26 residents, of whom 12 are remaining and waiting to be placed in other facilities.
On Friday, the facility appeared close to empty.
Nancy Morris moved into Home Place last month. Morris, 88, moved into the facility with her two sons, ages 53 and 56, both of whom have special needs.
"I don't know what to say, I'm just upset," Morris said. "I'm 88 years old and I was trying to get them settled before I have to leave them, you know."
When asked where she would move, Morris shrugged her shoulders and said, "I don't know yet. We're working on it but I just don't know?"
Ramona Crigler was packing up her mother's room Friday afternoon and preparing to move her to a personal care home in Aberdeen. While the facility is nice, Crigler, a Columbus resident, is concerned about the distance.
"It's an hour away. It's a beautiful place up there and I think she's going to like it, but it's not where I can get to her real quick," she said.
Crigler said her mother, who is 92, has lived at Home Place for four years and is having a hard time understanding why she has to move.
"She does not understand what's going on.." Crigler said. "She keeps asking, 'Where are we going? Why is it closing? Is everybody leaving? Why is it closing?'
"It's the saddest thing I've ever seen. It breaks my heart."
As two employees were packing up the last of their belongings, the women seemed both saddened and angry. Each spoke on the condition of anonymity as they begin to look for a new job. "All of a sudden we've got to get up and leave," one employee said. "You've got to leave. You've got to get up and go. The family has got to rush to find them somewhere to live. We've got to rush to find a job...It's horrible."
"This place is lovely but...Denny is Denny," the other woman said.
She took one last look around and hugged her fellow employee good bye.
"Good bye and good luck," she said.
Attempts to reach Nooner through his attorney were unsuccessful.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.