Planning commission revokes Ever Well’s permit

Tulare County Planning Commissioners Ed Dias and Terren Brown listen to Aaron Bock’s presentation.(Kenny Goodman)

Tulare County Planning Commission permanently revokes Ever Well special use permit for lack of neighborhood compliance with Terra Bella community, mismanagement of patients, etc.

TULARE COUNTY – After months of reviewing the complaints against the Ever Well mental health facility from the residents of Terra Bella on mismanaged patients, the planning commission has opted to ensure the facility cannot take up any more presence in the community.

On Sept. 27, the Tulare County Planning Commission unanimously voted to revoke the permit of the Ever Well mental health facility. The permit was revoked due to a lack of compliance with the neighborhood, creating health and safety issues, patients being allowed to leave the facility without supervision, inappropriate use of agricultural lands and not following the fencing requirements of their permit.

“Staff fully recommends revocation at this time,” assistant manager for the Tulare County Resource Management Agency Aaron Bock said at the hearing. “(Ever Well) would have an opportunity to appeal this matter to the board of supervisors. They will have 10 days to do so, and we anticipate that’s most likely to occur.”

Should Ever Well choose to appeal the revocation, the case will go before the Tulare County Board of Supervisors for reconsideration. However, for the time being, Ever Well can still host up to 12 patients at their facility – six per residential unit – with its state-issued license; but without its special use permit from the county, it cannot go beyond that limit. The facility, which currently has 15 patients from out of the county, will have to have some of their patients moved.

At the hearing, the commission reviewed new complaints and reports against the Ever Well facility since the last hearing on its special use permit status on July 26; however, these new reports were not considered in the decision to revoke the permit.

“We requested that these findings be presented to us, but this new stuff is not to be considered,” commissioner Ed Dias said about the new reports.

Since the first public hearing regarding the special use permit on July 12, the planning commission has received a slew of complaints against the mental facility from the citizens of Terra Bella. For over a year, the community’s residents have been subjected to various disruptions and disturbances at the hands of the facility’s patients, like patients breaking into private property, harassing children at the town’s local school and, in one reported instance, a patient drank the local church’s hand sanitizer.

In recent updates, the county received new complaints against the facility’s patients that include public nudity and wandering through the streets unsupervised.

At the July 12 meeting, Terra Bella resident Susan Craig recalled looking out her window to see an Ever Well patient starting a fire and trying to burn down the facility the day before the first hearing.

“(The facility) had no idea that there was a fire on the property,” Susan Craig said at the meeting.

Also at the July 12 hearing, mental health director for Tulare County Dr. Natalie Bolin explained that state regulations for residential mental health facilities – which are provided online by the state of California – makes clear that a facility must be able to provide appropriate levels of supervision for its patients. She then went on to say that the various testimonies of Terra Bella residents called Ever Well’s services into question.

“After hearing (the residents’) concerns, I am concerned about the health and safety of residents (at Ever Well),” Bolin said at the meeting.

The inadequate patient care from the facility has also drawn attention from state agencies. At the Sept. 27 meeting, Bock noted that Ever Well was recently cited by the state for not providing adequate supervision.

On Friday, Sept. 22, the commission received an email from Melinda Hoffman with the care licensing division of the California Department of Social Services. According to reports, the department of social services gave the facility deficiencies for not maintaining the supervision required for the care of three of their patients. One of the patients who has supervision listed in their care plan is the patient who started a fire at the facility. Additionally, some upkeep of the facility, like the fencing around the building, is not up to code.

Not only that, Bock noted the facility had two other substantiated cases for the same type of situation as the fire incident, as well as failing to alert the state of their county violation. Ever Well previously received a notice of violation from the county on June 9 for an improper zoning permit. This violation is why the planning commission started to consider revoking the special use permit.

The county’s initial notice of violation was filed because Ever Well has been operating under a permit given to Good Shepherd Lutheran Home, which was the facility using the property in Terra Bella before Ever Well came in. Good Shepherd was granted a special use permit in an agricultural zone for the purpose of treating children in 2003.

However, Ever Well is treating adults at their facility, and there are no records of a new special use permit being granted since.

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