Candler adult-care home Canterbury Hills to close at the end of July

Canterbury Hills — a 99-bed adult-care home with a history of complaints, EMS calls and state violations — will close at the end of the month.

The announcement came quietly through letters the Candler facility's director, Wittner Wright, sent on July 1 to the Buncombe County Health Department and N.C. Division of Health Care Regulation. Written 30-day notices of adult-care home closures of this kind are required under state regulation. These notices must include both a closing date and plans to move residents.

At Canterbury Hills, Wright says “the majority” of his 58 residents have some sort of mental illness.

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated all adult-care homes in North Carolina and concluded that the state had mismanaged its placement of mentally ill adults. In the DOJ's letter to the state, federal officials wrote, "Most people with mental illness receiving services in adult-care homes could be served in more integrated settings, but are relegated indefinitely and necessarily to adult-care homes because of systematic state actions and policies."

Adult-care homes provide residential care for the elderly, and also for people with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities and substance abuse problems.

“Nobody is getting displaced. I've been advocating for these guys for years and will find suitable placement for them,” says Wright, who owns other adult-care homes in Buncombe County. “I've already gotten several [placement] offers for most of my residents.” Though he declined to cite specific rest homes or facilities that will take Canterbury residents, he says that most of them should be able to receive care in Western North Carolina or “a little further east.”

Wright has owned Canterbury Hills for the last decade. However, those 10 years have been riddled with complaints from community members and penalties from the state. According to documents obtained by Xpress, in January and then June this year, the 99-bed facility received additional penalties that resulted in fines of $6,600 and $20,000. The lesser penalty was related to housekeeping concerns. The $20,000 fine was levied after an inspection revealed that the facility failed to meet the health care needs of its residents.

Wright insists that the pending penalties at the N.C. Division of Health Care Regulation, all of which have been appealed at this time, have nothing to do with closing the facility.

“The financial and political pressures sort of led to this,” he says. Wright specifically attributes those pressures to the DOJ investigation into the state's adult-care homes and changing state regulations. “We're not the only facilities that have already closed throughout the state, and we've held on longer than some of the big ones with the type of residents that we have.”

Buncombe County social work supervisor Cathie Beatty oversees the local team that monitors adult-care homes and has been to Canterbury Hills in the past. “I think those of us in the field do recognize that, at times, it's those hard-to-place residents that a facility like Canterbury has been able to take. And I think it's harder and harder to find appropriate placements for some residents with a real high acuity of need,” she says.

Beatty notes that most of the community's complaints are related to supervision of the facility's residents, such as residents wandering off of the property and into the Candler community.

It's something that Wright has heard too. “I always said that we're a square peg in a round hole. People want us to put a fence around the yard, but that's not what adult-care homes are. The residents have the same rights as you and I, and [they] are free to check out and leave.”

In any case, the impending closure shifts the focus to quickly finding homes for Canterbury residents. As established under a 2011 session bill from the North Carolina General Assembly, an adult-care home discharge team from the local department of social services will be working with community partners like Western Highlands Network to help those residents find new homes.

“It would be our desire to have people go to their county of origin where they may have more natural support,” Beatty says, adding, “We have a total of 86 adult-care homes in the community. The hope is that we will have enough resources to provide assisted living care for all of those residents at Canterbury.”

— Caitlin Byrd can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 140, or at cbyrd@mountainx.com.

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