Local News

Advocates say group homes hit hard by budget cuts

Posted February 9, 2010 5:31 p.m. EST
Updated February 9, 2010 7:53 p.m. EST

— More than 6,000 people with mental health or substance abuse problems live in group homes across North Carolina, but state officials said Tuesday that a weekend stabbing is no reason for concern by people who live near group homes.

"We don't license facilities with the intent that they're going to be dangerous," said Jeff Horton, with the Division of Health Service Regulation. "If we thought that was going to be the case, we wouldn't license them."

Stephan Abreu, 48, a resident at a group home in Holly Springs, was stabbed more than 20 times with a screwdriver on Saturday. He was treated at WakeMed and released.

Another resident of the home, Gregory Henry McClain, 22, was charged with attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. He was in the Wake County jail Tuesday under a $1.5 million bond.

State regulators on Monday suspended the license of the group home, which is operated by VAGAP Health. The suspension means that the home can no longer accept new residents. Regulators are trying to place current residents in other group homes.

The Holly Springs incident is a rarity, Horton said. Managers of the group home didn't properly screen people before accepting them, which created a situation they couldn't control, he said.

"We do less than half a dozen of those (cases) a year. It's something that's fairly infrequent," he said.

Dave Richard, executive director of The Arc of North Carolina, which advocates for people with mental disabilities, said he expects more incidents like the Holly Springs stabbing to occur in the future because of drastic cuts to mental health funding in last year's state budget.

"The health and safety of people that live in these facilities are in jeopardy as we continue to cut service dollars," Richard said. "It's a dilemma every provider faces right now. You see budget cuts. You have certain requirements that we have to meet in order to run and provide services for people. But, as you cut the budget, the ability to meet those standards becomes less and less."

Since the Holly Springs group home opened in December, police have received 17 calls for service from the home, including hang-ups, missing persons reports and suspicious activity.

Obi Achumba, who owns the group home, has said that residents have been well supervised.

Horton said any licensed facility must meet a minimum level of care to stay in business.

"The licensing standards are not budget-dependent the way they are set up," he said.