The Investigators: Boarding house busted - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

The Investigators UPDATE: Boarding house busted

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SOUTH MEMPHIS (WMC TV) - A fire inspector said a landlord may have violated city fire codes inside a boarding house where Action News 5 found four mental health patients living in unsafe conditions.

"I don't think anything in there works," said Memphis Fire Dept. Insp. Darnell Ellis after inspecting the property April 12. "There are smoke detectors tied to a fire alarm system, but it looks like that fire alarm has been turned off."

Initially, the landlord -- known only as "Ann Johnson" with a cell phone number -- evicted the patients after Action News 5 and disabilities advocate Tammy Mullins of Faith Christian Academy in Lakeland, TN, exposed the home's conditions April 1.

Action News 5 has since learned two of the patients settled with their families. One is back in the boarding house. The patient who was the whistle-blower, Odis Prater of Orange Mound, is in his second week at an East Memphis hotel and must be out by April 15.

"My money's run out, and I can't find a place to accommodate both my disability and my medication," said Prater, an amputee who suffers from depression. "I don't have any other options."

Mullins contacted The Action News 5 Investigators March 31 after Prater called her office number out of a phone book listing.

Prater said he and the other patients had been living in the boarding house at 1565 W. Dianne Cir. since January. He said the men paid Johnson a portion of their disability checks each month as rent. He added that Johnson is supposed to deliver food and the men's medication.

"We've been given instructions on how to give it out to the rest of the guys," said Prater April 1.

When Mullins and the Action News 5 Investigators inspected the property, the house was stifling hot. The thermostat was locked and sealed. Mullins noticed the fire extinguishers hadn't been serviced in three years. She said they're supposed to be serviced annually.

Institutional emergency exit signs installed above the front and back doors did not work. There's no land-line phone, which would aid emergency crews in locating the house more quickly.

The refrigerator, empty. Their medicine separator, empty.

Prater estimated the men had been without their medication for nearly a week.

"And these are people who need their medication to function in life," said Mullins. "These men have moved in here on good faith, and they're giving their checks to someone that is supposed to provide their meals and their medication, and their housing is not satisfactory."

None of the men can produce a lease or contract, only a piece of paper with Johnson's name and cell number. Johnson told The Action News 5 Investigators on the phone that the men's families placed them at her boarding house, not the hospitals which discharged them.

"All I will tell you is it's not a care home. It's a boarding house," Johnson said before hanging up.

Shelby County property records revealed the house is owned by the estate of Sidney and Zella Veasey. According to their obituaries, the Veaseys died within months of each other in 2008.

Tennessee incorporation records indicated the Veaseys ran Brookhaven Care Home, actually a number of homes for discharged patients in the Memphis area. They managed the properties from their home at 5071 Hillbrook St, although the Tennessee Department of Health has no record of a home care license for Brookhaven Care Home.

John Horne, the attorney for the Veasey estate, said their heirs shut down Brookhaven Care Home last September. Horne added that each of the properties connected to Brookhaven Care Home are saddled with delinquent property taxes, including the property on Dianne Cir.

"Their family had been leasing the properties to someone to rent them out," Horne said, adding that he did not know Johnson or her whereabouts and was unaware of any connection she had to the family or properties.

Methodist Healthcare spokespersons Mary Alice Taylor and Ruth Ann Hale confirmed that Methodist University hospital discharged at least one of the patients staying at the boarding house.

Taylor said Johnson is neither a licensed health care provider nor a care home manager, but her name and cell number - with no address - is on a list of landlords the hospital provides to the families of mental health patients seeking a place to stay.

"When patients are discharged from any of our facilities, patients and family members are involved in discharge decisions. That was the case in this instance," said Hale, media and communications director for Methodist Healthcare.

"We have received good feedback from patients who spent time at Ms. Johnson's boarding houses," she added. "Having learned about this situation, we plan to address these concerns."

Information provided by the patients and law enforcement sources indicated Johnson may be using an alias to protect her identity from tenants who are potentially dangerous. The Action News 5 Investigators have obtained an alternative name and address for her, but are withholding them in the interest of the integrity of the Memphis Fire Department's investigation.

"We need to talk to her," said Ellis. "If I can get a hold of her, it's her responsibility."

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