‘Deplorable conditions:’ Problem Solvers investigate Richmond assisted living homes

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Sterile hallways, blank walls, and a nearly empty fridge all exemplify what Michael Heffernan’s home life has been like for the past several years: temporary.

“I did have a break down,” Heffernan said.

Heffernan is 23 years old and battles a variety of mental health issues.

He relies on a monthly disability check worth a little over $700.

“I was in the hospital over Christmas, December 20th I went in, and also on the 23rd,” Heffernan said.

Michael Heffernan

Michael Heffernan

While he is pleased with his current temporary housing at a Chester hotel being provided by a non-profit, he dreads what might be next after a previous experience living at a home on Richmond’s Northside in 2015.

“I really think it's shameful that it got to that point,” Heffernan said about the experience.

Heffernan said the man running the home, Claude White, gave him the impression the home would be an assisted living facility, so he started paying him for a bed.

“You were under the impression when you first went to live there that he was going to be providing food, counseling, and medication?” CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit asked Heffernan.

“He would tell his clients including me that he would offer social work services and take care of people who have had medical problems,” Heffernan replied. “And said he'll provide food and housing and all this other stuff.”

Claude White

Claude White

Under state law, assisted living homes are required to be licensed with the Virginia Department of Social Services if more than three unrelated individuals lives there.

DSS requires them to provide three well-balanced meals a day to residents, ensure the health care needs of residents are met, and provide assistance securing mental health care services when needed.

But, Heffernan said White barely provided any of that to the residents.

“It was basically you're on your own,” Heffernan said.

Heffernan’s allegations can be found inside a report CBS 6’s Melissa Hipolit obtained from the City of Richmond’s Zoning Office.

It details an investigation conducted by the city’s CAPS Team into illegal assisted living facility schemes.

Michael Heffernan

Michael Heffernan

Don Andrews, who used to be a Zoning Officer with the city, worked on the report.

“The conditions are deplorable… these victims are voiceless, they might as well be children,” Andrews said.

“Financially it's very lucrative… One house could make $5,000 a month. Most of these proprietors have multiple operations going, so they have three houses, they could clear $15,000 a month on just three houses unlicensed,” Andrews said.

Andrews said White set up an unlicensed assisted living business called PATHS Consulting, and he opened two facilities.

One was located on 4th Avenue and the other on T Street, according to Andrews and the zoning report.

The report shows the city believed White and others were financially exploiting mentally incapacitated adults and taking the money from their disability checks, but not providing them what they’re supposed to.

“The proprietor goes to hospitals, to discharge coordinators at hospitals and solicits the discharge coordinator for patients, psychiatric patients, that are candidates for assisted living,” Andrews said.

Heffernan lived at the 4th Avenue address.


“Do you think he was taking advantage of people that were mentally incapacitated?” Hipolit asked Heffernan.

“Yeah, I do,” Heffernan replied.

The zoning report shows the City of Richmond found residents there living in deplorable conditions.

“They're sleeping on mattresses on the floor, they don't have means to make or heat food, there's no food in the house, one home in particular was heated by a stove,” Andrews said about what he found.

Andrews said at one of the properties, a highly schizophrenic woman who received $1200 a month in government assistance ended up prostituting herself for food money.

“That $1,200 was not going in any form or fashion for food for that woman. It was only going into the proprietor's pocket,” Andrews said.

Andrews said squeezing so many psychiatric patients together and not properly providing them their medications leads to numerous mental health calls to police.

“One place had 300 calls in a year, two to three per day,” Andrews said.

The report also shows Crossroads Payee Service processed many of the resident’s checks.

Crossroads shut down abruptly in June of 2016, and it is still being investigated by the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General for hundreds of missing social security checks.

Andrews said White would use Crossroads like a personal ATM.

“He would come in for $35, or $75, and just take the money out, and she would hand him this money,” Andrews said.

“How is it supposed to work?” Hipolit asked Andrews.

“You're supposed to justify, like anything else you would come in with a record for lease and this is who I rent to, that information would be verified,” Andrews said.

The city ultimately condemned both the 4th Avenue and T Street properties, and turned over its investigation to the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Office.

Patrick Dorgan, who has been handling the case, said the investigation is ongoing, but the CA’s office is standing down for now due to the federal investigation into Crossroads.

White no longer lives in the Richmond area, but we reached him by phone.

He declined an on camera interview, but said he did not do anything illegal and ran a rooming house.

He called the city’s investigation “fake.”

We did, however, track down another man who Andrews said runs illegal assisted living homes in the city named Lester Baccus.

Lester Baccus

Lester Baccus

“I'm not trying to hide anything, and we're trying to do the right thing, no we're not running anything illegal,” Baccus said.

Virginia DSS confirmed they have investigated White and Baccus for operating illegal operations.

In fact, they said we couldn’t look at their investigative report because the investigation is ongoing.

Baccus invited us into a home he runs on Meadowbridge Road for people with mental illnesses.

Police records provided to CBS 6 by the Richmond Police Department show nearly 70 calls for service to that address in 2016, including calls for stabbing and assault.

“We are allowed to have up to 8 persons, but it depends on what it's defined as, and this is a residential home so it's actually not a group home, it's a residential home,” Baccus told Hipolit when she first entered the home.

Baccus home

Baccus home

For that reason, Baccus said the assisted living rules do not apply.

Still, he said just three people officially live there

Although, we counted six unrelated persons in the home during our visit, including one man who had just been discharged from the hospital.

“These folks, they come and visit, they have friends, half of them don't even live here,” Baccus said about the people in the house.

Baccus said he does not mislead residents into thinking they are moving into an assisted living home, and he does not profit off of them.

“So, you're just doing this out of the goodness of your heart?” Hipolit asked Baccus.

“Absolutely, yes ma'am. I don't make anything off of this,” Baccus replied.

But, Efrem McClain, who used to live in one of Baccus’s homes, said that is not true.

“I had to sleep on the floor on a blow up mattress, and I was being eaten up terribly by bed bugs,” McClain said.

Efrem McClain

Efrem McClain

McClain, who described his mental illness as paranoia, showed us scars on his arms from the bed bugs.

“They had no food there, they had lots of bedbugs,” McClain said.

We asked Baccus about the bedbugs, and he said he addressed the issue, and while we were at the house, we did see him give the residents food.

By the end of our visit, Baccus admitted that he does not have the required license.

“You understand you need a license?” Hipolit asked Baccus.

“Absolutely,” Baccus responded, and he claimed that he is working with the state to get one but it is expensive.

“They're going to say, well you need a sprinkler system, or you need this or that. I don't have the funding for that. I'm trying to get the funding,” Baccus said.

For Andrews, Baccus and his home on Meadowbridge, reflect victimization he knows continues in Richmond, which he said a task force is needed to address.

“I still have contacts in Richmond I talk to about it, but it's very prevalent, and it's very lucrative, and I don't know that there is any mechanism addressing that right now and these people all travel in the same circles,” Andrews said.

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