Freedom–December 4, 2012– A second violent incident at the two group homes run by Lakeview Neurorehabilitation Center in Freedom occurred after Thanksgiving, the police chief told selectmen on Monday. The board decided to send selectman Scott Cunningham to Lakeview on Wednesday to see what could be done to prevent such incidents in the future. “It was a very productive meeting,” said Cunningham, adding the meeting was about exploring ways to improve communications between Lakeview and the town.
In November, selectmen met with Lakeview officials over concern about a resident of Freedom House, one of the group homes, who allegedly assaulted a staff member this fall. Selectmen say the zoning board approved Freedom House with the understanding that the people sent to the facility were ready to reenter society. Lakeview’s other group home in Freedom is called Thompson House. Selectmen are still researching what approvals were given to Lakeview for Thompson House.
Weeks before the alleged assault on the Freedom House staff member, the same person had allegedly assaulted an Ossipee police officer after walking away from Lakeview’s main facility in Effingham.
Police chief Josh Shackford told selectmen that problems at Lakeview had gotten worse in recent years since Lakeview instituted a policy that prevents staff from physically restraining patients. Further, Shackford said he’s responded to calls where patients are wandering in the road and throwing rocks at cars.
“They (Lakeview) had another incident down there a week and a half after they were in here,” said selectman Neal Boyle on Monday. “I did not walk away from that (the meeting with Lakeview) with any confidence whatsoever that they were listening to us.”
On Monday, Shackford told selectmen that there was another violent incident during the day after Thanksgiving. This time, a Thompson House patient, who had had a stay in the state prison’s psychiatric unit, had caused a major disturbance at the facility.
“He destroyed it,” said Shackford. “He lost control and got angry. He flipped over tables, put chairs through walls and broke everything he could put his hands on.”
Lakeview called four staff members down from the main facility in Effingham. The staff also called the sheriff’s department to transport the man back down to Concord. Shackford was notified of the incident and responded. The man calmed down and Shackford said he was able to handcuff the man.
Selectmen provided a reporter with a copy of the June 27, 2000 meeting minutes in which Freedom House was given a special exception. In it, then CEO of Lakeview, Carolyn Ramsey, described the types of people who would inhabit the facility.
“Ramsey explained that this group home would have five people from Lakeview Neurorehabilitation Center who have been through rehabilitation, are not a danger to the community and are not sexual predators,” states the minutes.
Nobody from Lakeview attended Monday’s meeting. On Monday, before the meeting, Joe Viana, head of the group homes, said he was unaware the selectmen were going to have a follow-up meeting that night.
When reached Tuesday, Lakeview’s executive director, Dr. Thomas Horan, had no comment on Monday’s meeting and declined to answer questions. However, Horan said he would take a look at an email a reporter sent him, which outlines concerns that staff members have raised, including a recent violent incident at Lakeview’s main facility in Effingham. At the meeting last month, Horan said the staff member who was allegedly assaulted shouldn’t have called 9-1-1 but instead should have called the main facility in Effingham.
Horan said although he couldn’t predict the behavior of residents, he could say that Lakeview staff will respond to problems that arise. As for the “non-confrontational” policy, Horan told selectmen that taking down and restraining residents used to be the way it was done. Now, Lakeview uses a different approach called the Mandt training system.
“The training is meant to prohibit that kind of response so people are not taken down, they are not wrapped up,” said Horan in November. “These are people with feelings just like you and I.”
At Monday night’s meeting, Boyle suggested the board send Lakeview a “very strongly worded letter” stating that the board wants to hear Lakeview’s plan to “correct the situation.” Boyle suggested that the letter could come with a deadline for response, and, if not met, could result in closure. Boyle suggested sending the letter to Lakeview’s ownership in Texas and the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office. Selectmen’s chair Les Babb suggested trying a “softer approach first.” He suggested sending Cunningham to meet with Dr. Horan to see if Lakeview can go back to operating as the ZBA intended. Babb said there were dozens of people from Freedom who work in the facilities. Cunningham also advised caution in response to Boyle’s idea.
“When you get Texas involved and the state attorney general, you begin to threaten the existence (of the facility),” said Cunningham.
Boyle replied that selectmen already told Lakeview not to send violent people to Freedom and now they must tell Lakeview there will be consequences if they continue to do so.
“Neal has a valid point,” said Babb. “To me it’s pretty simple. Either you run it the way it was approved or we do a cease and desist.”
Selectmen understood that the nature of working with the brain injured can be unpredictable but they want to make sure violent incidents don’t become commonplace. Cunningham said he’d “take a crack” at talking to Horan.
“At least I’m a psychologist and he’s a psychologist and maybe that will work out,” said Cunningham on Monday.
Babb said another option was for Lakeview to go back to the ZBA and ask for a change to its original approval. The staff member who was allegedly assaulted at Freedom House recently identified herself as Susan Gagne. Gagne said she had followed the instructions she was given when she called for police.
“I had just been assaulted, had my hair pulled, been thrown to the floor and repeatedly been punched and kicked in the head,” said Gagne in a letter. “My instructions were, ‘Call 9-1-1 and then call the mountain,’ which I did.” Gagne also stressed that group home residents as a whole are wonderful people.
Trouble in Effingham
There was another violent incident at the main facility in Effingham on the afternoon of Nov. 28. As a result of the incident, a man was charged with second-degree assault, said Effingham police chief Timothy Butts adding the case is under investigation. He said an ambulance was also called to the scene. A dispatch log from the sheriff’s office shows that the assault victim was stabbed in the back with a piece of glass. The log indicates the victim was transported to Huggins Hospital. Butts couldn’t say if the problems at Lakeview had gotten worse in the last couple of years because he had no statistics on that subject.
However, former Effingham chief Joe Collins, who left Effingham for Gilmanton a few months ago, said he agrees with Shackford that police have had to deal with more problems from Lakeview after the new restraint policy was put into action. Collins worked at Effingham for nine years and said the problems became much more frequent around 2010. Those include patients smashing the staffs’ car windshields and escapes that resulted in patients running down the road and entering private property.