Confronted with reports of substandard care, a state judge placed all 13 group homes for the retarded operated by Growth Horizons of Maryland Inc. under the direction of a receiver.
Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini said yesterday that the homes had chronic problems, ranging from medication errors to a poorly trained staff. He said a fire that destroyed one of the homes last week was but a recent example of the lax supervision given patients with behavioral problems.
A patient who had a history of starting fires went unsupervised into the basement of a home on Loch Raven Boulevard in Baltimore, setting a fire that forced the evacuation of three residents who were home at the time. Six people who lived there are now staying with their parents, Mr. Sabatini said.
The Growth Horizons homes are spread out across Baltimore and Baltimore County. The company, which also does business in Delaware and Pennsylvania, took care of 43 patients in the metropolitan area.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan placed the 13 homes and a day treatment program operated by Growth Horizons under the receivership of Maryland First Financial Services Corp., which in turn hired Chimes Inc. to take over the day-to-day management of the facilities. Only hours after the order was issued, Chimes administrators had taken over the homes.
Mr. Sabatini said that he also asked the attorney general's office to institute civil litigation aimed at recouping taxpayers' money that was awarded Growth Horizons to provide services for its residents.
Although he did not indicate the exact amount to be sought, he said Growth Horizons would have received $2.8 million this year if allowed to operate all its facilities through the end of 1991.
"People have the right to quality care, and if a provider doesn't deliver it, they don't deserve to be doing business in Maryland with taxpayers' money," Mr. Sabatini said.
The secretary said he was confident that Chimes Inc. would ensure the health and safety of the residents. Ultimately, the homes will probably be sold to new owners, he said.
Officials with Growth Horizons could not be reached for comment.