Group home provider at center of controversy in JoCo neighborhoods also at odds with state agency

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - The Johnson County group home provider embroiled in a controversy with local fire safety and code regulators is also at odds with the state agency that provides its license to operate.

On Wednesday, 41 Action News reported on the controversy with a group home located in a southern Overland Park neighborhood.

City officials said the company owners are required to install a sprinkler system because the home providing services to five people with developmental disabilities is a “care facility.”

However, the group home operator argues the requirement discriminates against the residents.

The situation in Overland Park could set a legal precedent for what happens with the company’s other group homes in Leawood, Olathe and Lenexa.

The owners of Life Centers of Kansas have declined multiple interview requests from 41 Action News.

But on Thursday, co-owner Jessica Dalton jumped into a conversation on the 41 Action News Facebook page .

“Make no mistake that safety is the number one priority here… No one disputes this,” Dalton wrote, while listing off safety features like fire alarms and extinguishers. “And the most important being monthly fire drills that on a consistent basis prove that the residents are a ‘prompt evacuation’ meaning they get out faster than you do! All of these measures are in compliance with the State Fire Marshall’s (sic) Office.”

However, 41 Action News contacted the fire marshal’s office and heard a different story.

An open-records request revealed a number of violations identified at Life Centers’ group homes during inspections in January 2013. Those included issues with fire alarms, smoke detectors and doors.

“Distinctly hazardous conditions related to Fire/Life Safety were discovered at this facility,” all nine reports said.

Group home providers are supposed to provide a written plan of correction within 10 days of the inspection.

However, Chief of Inspections Brenda McNorton told 41 Action News the fire marshal conducted follow-up inspections within the past week. Some of the same issues still existed, she said.

It is the reason officials at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS) are losing patience.

The state agency issues a license to providers like Life Centers. A spokeswoman for the agency said one of the ongoing requirements for any licensee is to be in compliance with all fire and life safety codes.

Angela de Rocha, communications director for KDADS, told 41 Action News the agency has requested a plan of correction by July 1. Otherwise, the group home provider could face anything from fines to having its license revoked.

“The licensee has been given multiple opportunities to comply, and numerous extensions, in order to clear up these code compliance issues,” de Rocha said. “KDADS expects full and final compliance by the deadline provided or the agency will take appropriate final action.”

On Tuesday, 41 Action News spotted an electrician’s van at multiple Life Centers group homes, though it’s unclear if that work was related to any of the non-compliance issues in the inspection reports.

41 Action News has an outstanding records request for the more recent inspections conducted by the state fire marshal.

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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