The Great TP War

During his stay at a Catholic Charities boardinghouse, Greg Scott complained about everything from bathroom tissue to medication practices. And he's not done yet.

When Greg Scott moved into Catholic Charities' Exodus home, he thought he'd just about hit bottom. His life as a retail manager in Pensacola, Florida, had begun to fall apart when his mother died in 1991; to pull himself out of a spiral of drinking and family arguments he'd finally moved in with his father in Bloomington. But the arguments continued, and during a particularly severe bout with depression, Scott landed at the Crisis Intervention Center, Hennepin County's mental-health emergency room. After a stint in the psychiatric ward he was released to the Salvation Army's Harbor Lights Center. But his diagnosis of depression meant he could qualify to live in a special facility for people with mental disabilities or chemical dependency--a so-called Residential Structured Housing Program. Scott secured a spot at Exodus, one of 12 such facilities in Hennepin County, and moved in March 4.

Scott is a soft-spoken, articulate man with the tenacity of a pit bull, and he soon sunk his teeth into Exodus's policies and procedures. For five months he questioned and challenged the home's practices on a variety of issues--until, on July 27, the staff got sick of being bit by the hand it was feeding and kicked him out. But true to form, Scott is not going quietly. He's fought his lockout in housing court, and the Minneapolis Legal Aid Society has expressed interest in helping him sue Catholic Charities for violating the Vulnerable Adults Act--a state law that protects people with mental or physical infirmities. At press time, Legal Aid representatives confirmed that they had spoken with Scott, but wouldn't comment on the case further.

At first glance, the Exodus Hotel looks like a cross between a dormitory and a hospital. Behind its brownstone facade at the corner of Second Avenue and Eighth Street South is an institutional, glass-fronted lobby from which long, freshly painted corridors run in several directions. Single and double sleeping rooms line those corridors, and there are shared bathrooms on each floor.

Diana Watters

It was in those bathrooms that Scott's complaints began. "There was never any paper towels, hand soap or toilet paper," he maintains. "And while it may not sound like a big deal, when you don't have toilet paper when you need it, it becomes a big deal." Hoping to bolster his arguments with procedural detail, Scott demanded to see a copy of the facility's rules; when he received it after three months, he discovered that residents were entitled to clean linens and towels every Friday. But that, too, was an empty promise, he claims. "I haven't had clean sheets in months, and some of the guys have gone even longer than that."

Which is their own fault, rebuts Exodus director Kristine Ornberg. "We have a surplus of clean sheets, but it's up to the residents to change their own bedding." Ornberg also rejects Scott's charge that the staff opens residents' mail. "A certain government agency, which shall remain nameless, tapes all of their envelopes, and he's convinced some [residents] that means their mail has been opened." She acknowledges that the facility has staffers without a background in health care dispense residents' medication; that, she says, became necessary in response to recent state legislation requiring homes like Exodus to store all meds in a central location. She adds that Exodus plans to hire a health professional soon.

But it wasn't the fine points of Exodus's administration, Scott insists, that compelled him to keep pushing: What really irked him was that no one seemed to be watching over the facility. The state pays Catholic Charities $1,188 per resident per month, he notes. "This is all taxpayer money, and I've paid into this system my entire life. We have a right to know if the state is getting what it's paying for."

Until recently, that was a difficult question to answer. Homes like Exodus fall into the regulatory netherworld between medical facilities and simple rooming houses, serving clients who are neither ill enough to be hospitalized nor well enough to survive on their own. State rules set out minimum standards for space and number of staff, but do not address the quality of care; neither does the city of Minneapolis, which issues licenses for the homes. That, says Hennepin County Adult Housing supervisor Marge Wherley, leaves the county to do whatever monitoring is required. "I know that everyone is on track, and that they aren't violating any standards," she says, then pauses before adding, "because there aren't any standards."

That's true, adds Pamela Koens, a placement coordinator in Wherley's unit, but it doesn't mean RSH programs can do whatever they please. "I visit each facility at least once every three months to look at the condition of the building, the quality of the food service, etc.," she says. And because Exodus is currently undergoing a $3 million rehab, Koens says she's been there six times in recent months, and has yet to substantiate any of Scott's charges. "[Exodus] has a clean bill of health," she concludes, adding that residents who aren't satisfied with the county's oversight can take their complaints to the state's Adult Protection Services or the Mental Health Ombudsman.

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