Central Florida facility for disabled will shut down after multiple violent incidents


Carlton Palms Educational Center - PHOTO VIA GOOGLE MAPS
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  • Carlton Palms Educational Center
A Mount Dora facility for people with severe disabilities is finally closing after reports of horrifying violence and neglect over the years.

The state Agency for Persons with Disabilities says the company that owns Carlton Palms Educational Center notified the agency it would cease operations in Florida on May 31. The company, Bellwether Behavioral Health, also notified APD that it plans to close two six-bed group homes in Central Florida.

APD filed for receivership of the business to "ensure a safe transition of all residents" and will select a company to take over the operations of Carlton Palms. The state agency says the process for revoking Carlton Palms' license is ongoing.

"We continue to work diligently to ensure the safe transition of residents from Carlton Palms while holding Bellwether Behavioral Health accountable," said Barbara Palmer, director of APD, in a statement. "Today’s action is a major milestone in our efforts to shut down the facility that has proven it does not have the best interest of our clients in mind."

Shocking instances of abuse at Carlton Palms has been reported and documented over the years by media outlets like the Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and ProPublica. The complaints against the facility include:

– The death of William Lamson, a 26-year-old man diagnosed with severe autism. He died on March 1 after he reportedly stopped breathing after staff taunted him by keeping out of a reach a protective helmet he was supposed to be wearing.

– The 2013 death of Paige Elizabeth Lunsford, a 14-year-old South Florida girl diagnosed with autism. Days after arriving at Carlton Palms, she died of dehydration after vomiting all night from a stomach illness.

– The 1997 death of 14-year-old Jon Henley. Henley was found dead in his bed after low levels of medication he took to control his seizures.

– In 2017, one man sustained significant head injuries after a Carlton Palms staff member shoved him, according to a state complaint. The injuries required stitches.

– The same state complaints details how another male patient was raped after being left alone with a resident who had a history of sexual aggression and was supposed to be under constant supervision.

– Last August, the APD said in a letter that a caregiver saw a resident raping another resident. The staff member didn't take any action against the aggressor.

– One resident was "locked in the bathroom for hours and tortured by staff members," while another was burned by a staffer with scalding water, according to the Herald.

– In 2016, a caregiver was caught on video throwing a patient on the ground and choking him, according to the Sentinel.

– Last month, a resident was arrested for biting off the tip of another patient's nose in 2016, according to the Daily Commercial.

– In 2011, a mother sued Carlton Palms after her son was bound and restrained hundreds of times with inhumane methods that "harked back to asylums of eras past," according to ProPublica

After dozens of complaints, Carlton Palms was ordered to send 58 residents to stay in smaller facilities closer to their families, the Sentinel reports. The APD said it has taken multiple actions to hold Bellwether Behavioral Health accountable, including a moratorium on new residents, video monitoring, administrative sanctions and a $10,000 fine. Previously, the state had agreed with Bellwether to close the facility by March 2019.

"I am very excited to see these residents transition into smaller group homes in their local communities," Palmer said in a statement. "Keeping our APD customers safe and healthy is the top priority of the agency, and moving them into smaller homelike settings lends itself to a happier and healthier environment."

The agency said it is working with community providers to develop additional group homes for individuals with more intensive behavioral needs.

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