The Department of Social and Health Services has determined that Hanbleceya, a company that provides mental-health services and runs several group homes in Normandy Park, is breaking Washington state law.

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A controversial company treating the severely mentally ill is illegally operating adult family homes in a Seattle suburb, a state investigation determined Friday.

The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) said Hanbleceya, a company that runs several group homes in Normandy Park, is breaking Washington state law.

Hanbleceya opened a treatment clinic in Normandy Park and quietly bought three homes and rented two others about seven months ago. Since then, the for-profit company, based in La Mesa, Calif., has come under attack by city officials and concerned citizens.

Many residents of Normandy Park, a small suburb south of Seattle, banded together after learning of two suicide attempts at the homes and encountering what they said was secrecy and deception by the company.

According to a DSHS letter hand-delivered to Hanbleceya on Friday, the company must immediately become licensed and follow regulations for adult family homes if it wants to continue to operate. An adult family home is a residential home licensed to care for up to six unrelated adults.

DSHS also demanded access to the homes and clients so that it can monitor the care being provided.

In addition, four Hanbleceya health-care professionals are under investigation, suspected of failing to provide adequate care based on complaints to the state Department of Health (DOH) by the families of two former Hanbleceya clients.

Who’s being cared for

The clients suffer severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and drug addiction. They and their families are charged about $100,000 a year for services.

In a recent Seattle Times story, a 27-year-old client complained about the level of care, saying Hanbleceya in Normandy Park neglected him.

Justin DeVille, of Atlanta, Ga., said Hanbleceya several times dropped him off with little money at a Seattle homeless shelter because he hadn’t followed the rules at his group home.

His parents said they paid $25,000 for 10 weeks of services — food, rent, one-on-one support and individual therapy for their son — even though he was in a shelter, homeless or hospitalized for more than half of that time.

Up until Friday, no state agency was overseeing Hanbleceya. The Seattle Times first reported in July that state agencies had no idea how to regulate the company because it offered a new breed of long-term mental-health treatment that coupled semi-independent living with off-site clinical care.

At the time, Hanbleceya said that because it didn’t provide supervised care inside the homes, it did not fall under DSHS regulation.

DSHS said its four-month investigation included visits to the homes, interviews and an examination of records.

“Based on the information we obtained, they were providing room, board, personal care and special care, and that is the definition of an adult family home,” said Lori Melchiori, assistant director of Residential Care Services for DSHS.

She declined to give further details of the investigation, but said she believed that clients weren’t in “imminent danger” at any time.

The company’s response

Hanbleceya managing partner Kerry Paulson, in an email Friday, said the company has “begun efforts to work with DSHS” and intends “to comply with Washington law.”

If Hanbleceya continues to operate without a license, it could face a $3,000 daily fine and criminal penalties.

DSHS investigated three of Hanbleceya’s five Normandy Park homes. Asked Friday about the other two homes, Melchiori said she was unaware of them. She said her agency will investigate those two homes to determine if they need to be licensed.

By the end of next week, Hanbleceya must provide DSHS with a plan for how it will become licensed and a plan for protecting residents’ rights and providing adequate care in the homes.

To become a licensed adult family home, Hanbleceya must, among other things, have employees go through criminal background checks.

In pursuing complaints from the DeVilles and another family, the Department of Health said it is investigating four Hanbleceya health-care providers: clinical director Ian Wolds, a psychologist; off-site psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Carter; social worker Daniel Gross; and marriage-and-family therapist Chelsy Bundy.

In a letter sent Friday to the city of Normandy Park, DOH said that under current rules it has no authority to regulate the company because it doesn’t meet the definition of a residential treatment facility.

Bart Eggen, DOH executive director for facilities, said the agency has begun discussions with legislators to determine if “entities such as Hanbleceya should be regulated as residential treatment facilities.”

Christine Willmsen: 206-464-3261 or cwillmsen@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @Christinesea.