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Employees of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services' Adult Protective Services division don gloves, gowns and other gear before entering an unlicensed residential care home in Boley, Oklahoma, on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (Tres Savage)

(Editor’s note: Hours after the publication of this story, Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office filed eight felony charges against the Myers sisters who ran Rest Haven Management’s residential care homes.)

BOLEY — Law enforcement and state service agencies swarmed one licensed and two “unlicensed” residential care homes Wednesday morning in Okfuskee County. Agents served cease and desist orders, conducted interviews with developmentally disabled residents and relocated about a dozen individuals to other residential care homes or living quarters.

“It’s about damn time,” said Dave Sousa, a 30-year Air Force veteran whose son, Erik was removed from the unlicensed Living Waters group home at 320 Pecan St. “When I called that place the very first two days he was out there, one of the deputies told me that that place has been under investigation for over two years. So this was a blessing today.”

Sousa was far from the only person pleased by Oklahoma State Department of Health officials issuing orders to the three homes, which housed a total of 20 people.

“For one, the clients weren’t being monitored, so therefore we were doing a lot of [emergency orders of detention]. Some of them would last from eight hours to 36 hours,” said Boley Police Chief Richard Hammett. “That’s how we started getting involved in it, and then it just became such a recurring process that something had to be done.”

Hammett and Boley Mayor Francis Shelton said the town added new ordinances recently to address excessive 9-1-1 calls and emergency transportations stemming from the three homes in question.

“Them being checked on today, to me, is a good thing,” Shelton said.

The three homes — owned separately but used by Rest Haven Management, Inc. under three different brandings — were more than “checked on” Wednesday.

“This is an ongoing investigation,” said Tony Sellars, communications director for the State Department of Health. “OSDH in conjunction with (DHS) adult protective services, the Attorney General’s Office and Boley law enforcement have served three cease and desist orders.”

Alex Gerszewski, communications director for Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, said the AG’s office is “a cooperating agency” in the investigation of Rest Haven Management.

“Any investigation conducted by our office is confidential until charges are filed,” Gerszewski said. “We were made aware of certain aspects of the allegations earlier this year.”

Advocate: ‘A lack of care and responsibility’

Just how long and to what extent Rest Haven Management has been under investigation remains unclear.

“Dealing with the process of trying to have them shut down or comply with state rules has been about a year-long process,” said Hammett, Boley’s police chief. “Now, it has been an issue for us for probably a year-and-a-half or two years, at least.”

Sara Bana, a victim’s advocate who has represented Erik Sousa for almost four years, transported the 35-year-old developmentally disabled man to a different residential care home in Guthrie on Wednesday. Bana said she has tried for months to convince state agencies to investigate the homes operated by Rest Haven Management, Inc.

Bana and Dave Sousa, Erik’s father, filed a formal complaint with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ adult protective services division in July.

bug bites
Eric Sousa, a resident at the unlicensed Rest Haven Management Company in Boley, Oklahoma, shows bug bites on his wrists Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (Tres Savage)

“It’s just a lack of care and responsibility to people who have mental health issues and illnesses. They need support and services from the state government and protection, in reality,” Bana said. “With Erik, he was placed under a court order. So if you were going to send someone like him into a facility like this, you would hope that someone has oversight of these types of facilities — that they are making sure they are certified.”

Rest Haven Management’s registered principal agents are Enetrice Renee Myers and Ayana Stacy Stevenson, according to filings with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. The entity is filed as a for-profit business, but the company’s website notes a pending 501(c)(3) application. A “donate” button on the site goes to a PayPal page for “Enetrice’s Marykay Business.”

“I guess I don’t understand what all has happened today. I wasn’t aware that this was happening,” Enetrice Myers told NonDoc. “I guess the state came in about a week and a half ago, and I guess they did a welfare check. That’s what they called it. I said, ‘OK.'”

Myers, who lives in Ohio and who hung up during an interview phone call, said the two houses on Pecan Street had 15 total residents and were “shared living houses” instead of residential care homes, which are defined and regulated by the state.

“They were never supposed to be a licensed facility. I was the landlord over them,” Myers said, adding that state agents acted unfairly in shutting down her homes. “My clients didn’t even want to leave.”

A man of few words, Erik Sousa disagreed Wednesday. He answered affirmatively when asked if he wanted to live somewhere else and said he did not like living at the Rest Haven Management home.

Asked his least favorite part of living with six other people in the 1,392-square-foot house at 320 Pecan St., Sousa was concise.

“Bugs,” he said, hiking his shirt sleeves to reveal numerous bites and potentially gangrenous skin on his fingers.

Bana has been inside the home multiple times and said Sousa is charged $750 in monthly rent taken from his Social Security payments. She referenced fly paper caked with insects hanging above Sousa’s bed.

“When I opened his drawer to pack up his clothes, roaches spilled out,” Bana said before addressing Sousa. “But we’re going to get those washed for you.”

residential care homes
A strand of fly paper hangs thick with insects over Erik Sousa’s bed at a home operated by Rest Haven Management. (Sara Bana)

Document: ‘Lack of food,’ seizure of debit cards, ‘roach infestation’

The claims of Bana and the Sousas would seem supported by OSDH’s cease and desist letters (embedded below). The two unregistered residential houses — located a block from one another — were surveyed by OSDH employees Oct. 30.

“Services and care provided to these residents constitutes operating an unlicensed residential care facility,” the administrative compliance order states. “Respondent apparently did not disclose to residents and/or the responsible parties of the residents that the facility was not licensed by the OSDH nor authorized to operate by the OSDH.”

Both homes were cited for “lack of food.” The home where Sousa was living had locks on the refrigerator and freezer, which Myers said were accessible by residents. But the document also notes a “roach infestation,” an individual “residing in the laundry room” and the “seizure of resident personal belongings, including diabetic supplies, food stamp cards, driver licenses, debit cards and Social Security cards.”

The second unregistered home at 419 Pecan St. was noted as having “malfunctioning cooking equipment” and a “bed bug infestation.”

“It was dirty. Every one of those people out there should not have had to be put in that environment,” Dave Sousa said. “I think it’s poor oversight on the state’s part. I think the system failed. They not only failed my son, but they failed a lot of those residents.”

Father: ‘Stove-piped’ state agencies ‘do not really coordinate well’

residential care homes
State agency and local law enforcement vehicles line the side of Pecan Street in Boley, Oklahoma, on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (Tres Savage)

In analyzing how “the system failed,” Dave Sousa draws on his own experience working for Disabled American Veterans and points to a “stove-piped” set of jurisdictions among the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Oklahoma Office of Disability Concerns and others.

“These agencies do not really coordinate well together,” Sousa said. “They’re all doing their own thing, and they don’t coordinate their actions together on programs that affect citizens.”

Hammett, the Boley chief, said finally receiving a call that the homes were being served orders was “a relief.”

“It has been frustrating just because of the multiple agencies involved,” he said. “There wasn’t a clear line of communication of what’s going on or where we stand.”

Keili McEwen, deputy chief of strategic engagement and acting communications director for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, said DHS has tried to do its part in looking at Rest Haven Management’s practices.

“We have been investigating referrals at that facility for multiple months and reporting our findings to the Department of Health and the Attorney General’s Office,” McEwen said. “It is correct that we have had many referrals — multiple referrals — from that facility to [adult protective services], and we have investigated each and every one of those referrals.”

Adult protective services is a division of DHS.

“We have had concerns about the number of referrals coming out of that facility for quite some time,” McEwen said. “We have shared our reports and our findings on each one of those referrals with the Department of Health because we don’t have the jurisdiction to shut the facility down. They do.”

Asked about the challenge of one agency being responsible for investigating complaints and a separate agency being responsible for taking action, McEwen picked her words carefully.

“We work very closely of the Department of Health to make them aware of referrals we are receiving at privately owned facilities,” she said.

Sellars, the OSDH spokesman, was asked why the two “unlicensed” homes in Boley remained open for months after complaints were filed and investigated by DHS.

“It is difficult to identify them,” Sellars said. “Obviously, they try to hide the activity. They must actually be observed as providing a function that would label them as a residential care facility before they can be cited. And, in this case, those functions were cited in the order.”

State shut down previous home run by Stevenson family

The three homes closed Wednesday were operated by the same company, which had one of its homes — seven miles east of the others — registered with the Department of Health. Okfuskee County records show that home is owned by Enetrice Myers’ sister, Stacy Myers.

“I’m not the administrator there. I resigned from there,” Stacy Myers said by phone, declining to specify when she resigned.

Rest Haven Management’s Facebook page — which uses the handle @sleepoverforyou — was last updated Jan. 31 and still lists Stacy Myers as “CEO/Director.” It also lists Kacylia Stevenson and Stacy Stevenson as case management employees. Stacy Stevenson is listed as a principal on the company’s state business filings from December 2014.

Stevensons in Okfuskee County have run a residential care home for the mentally disabled before, and the state has closed it before. In 2003, OSDH removed 15 residents from Stevenson’s Residential Care Home in Boley, and the Okfuskee County district attorney filed charges against multiple family members. Allegations included hitting a resident in the back with a rake and threatening a resident with an ax.

In the new cease and desist orders revealed Wednesday, a similar allegation was made Oct. 30 about caretakers at the home east of Boley, simultaneously branded as “4-C” and “For See” by Rest Haven Management.

According to a tenant at a nearby independent care home, on Oct. 22, 2019, a resident at Four See ‘4C’ was strange and abused by the home’s co-owner’s brother. The resident in question confirmed that he was choked by a facility employee, and that during the attack, the resident thought he ‘was going to die if [the employee] had not let his neck go.’ The resident was observed to have a bruise on his neck. The resident stated, ‘They are making me do things I don’t want to do.’ Another employee stated that the resident had refused to drive other residents to day treatment because he did not have a valid driver’s license. The resident made a report with local law enforcement, OSDH has no incident report related to the attack.

Hammett said the state actions taken Wednesday were “a victory,” but he worries it might be short-lived.

“Dealing with these types of individuals (who ran the homes), it’s just a matter of time before they pop up with another one, whether it’s going to be in our jurisdiction or in somebody else’s,” Hammett said. “They could care less about what’s going on. I think they just really care about getting that money, and they have no intention of doing what’s best for the patient.”

Erik Sousa ‘a young man who used to be independent’

Erik Sousa had been living at one of Rest Haven Management Company’s unlicensed residential care homes since June 27. After seven weeks of in-patient care at Alliance Health Midwest, an Oklahoma County judge issued an order of detention, according to Dave Sousa.

Erik was ordered to live at a Rest Haven Management home after it was recommended to the judge by a social worker from the hospital, Dave Sousa said.

“I said, ‘You guys are the experts, and I am trusting that you have an after-action plan that this is going to be good for Erik,” the father said. “We relied on the expertise of medical professionals to make sure they were recommending a place that was going to help Erik progress, not digress. Well, that did not happen.”

Dave Sousa said his son was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder at a young age, as well as an intellectual deficit, Asperger syndrome and schizoaffective disorder. When the Sousas decided to move to Arizona, Erik did not want to relocate. His parents waited more than a year to help ease him into the idea they would no longer be living in the same state, though Erik’s sister remains in Oklahoma.

“At the end of the day, he’s a grown man, and he did not want to come live with us,” Dave Sousa said. “So that’s why we tried to prepare him 18 months to two years in advance because we knew the hardest transition would be for him.”

After they moved in June 2018, Erik faced challenges staying on medication. In the spring, he was hit by a car while in an episode of psychosis. His spiral continued, leading him to the unlicensed residential care home in Boley. Now, he heads to a different care home in Guthrie.

“You’re talking about a young man who used to be independent enough to live on his own, take care of his own bills, do his own shopping,” Erik’s father said. “He has gone 360.”

Boley ‘making improvements,’ awarded grant

Boley, Oklahoma
A renovated park and community garden sits on the northwest corner of State Highway 62 and Pecan Street at the south edge of Boley, Oklahoma. (Tres Savage)

While Dave Sousa knows Rest Haven Management’s homes in Boley were not helpful to his son, they also have not been helpful to the historically all-black town. Other residential care homes exist in the small community, and Hammett praised their work with vulnerable adults, as well as their support for the town.

“There are good mental health facilities, and I think that the good ones definitely outweigh the bad,” Hammett said. “And I would hate for the good facilities to get a bad rap.”

Mayor Francis Shelton agreed that Boley’s other homes have been run well over the years.

“But this one, I’m not sure if they did as much,” Shelton said.

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Having worked in behavioral health care with developmentally disabled adults, Shelton would know what needs to be done for a group home to be successful.

“I know they need help, and they need places to live,” Shelton said. “However, if you’re going to run a home, you should manage that home the best you know how. And if you don’t understand it, then go get the education you need to run it well.”

While Boley residents saw a dozen official vehicles swoop into town Wednesday morning to close the Rest Haven Management homes, town leaders learned other news about their community this week.

Tuesday, the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust announced it was awarding $16,000 to the town of Boley for new playground equipment, pavilions and “health promotion for all community members.”

“We’re doing our best to give the town a positive look,” Shelton said. “The people are good people and doing the best we can do given the economy. We are doing as much as we can to make it a safe place to live, to support the businesses we have. That’s what I want people to know. We don’t need any negatives. We are moving toward all the positives we can. We are making improvements.”

Cease and desist order: ‘Unlicensed’ facilities

Cease and desist order: Licensed ‘For See’ facility