Moms fight for sons

Michelle Pletcher and Carrie Krumenacker sit with their sons, Charles Shunk and Cody Krumenacker, at Roxbury Bandshell. 

EBENSBURG, Pa. – Carrie Krumenacker and Michelle Pletcher thought they had found a suitable home for their intellectually disabled adult sons.

A friend had recommended Ebensburg-based Community Services and Support Corp., one of about a dozen organizations operating group homes in Cambria County under the Department of Human Services’ Community Residential Rehabilitation program.

Krumenacker’s son Cody, 22, and Pletcher’s son Charles, 32, both had had issues at other homes, so the two mothers were wary and tried to keep in touch with staff at the Rowena Drive house.

“In the beginning, it was good,” Pletcher said, explaining that one of the direct support professionals took time to understand their sons’ complicated needs. “He was very empathetic with the boys. He was very empathetic to their need. Built that bond with them.”

Then that individual left CSSC’s employment.

“They took him out of the bus, and the wheels came off,” Pletcher said. “My phone started ringing at 7 a.m. and it wouldn’t stop until 7 at night. There was always a panic situation going on.”

They tried working with company management, then contacted the Department of Human Services and the Cambria County Behavioral Health/Intellectual Disabilities Programs. Concerns included missed doctors’ appointments and missed medication.

The Tribune-Democrat’s review of online documents showed that a November inspection of the home by the DHS Office of Developmental Programs cited the lapses and found other violations. The DHS ordered the company to implement staff training and additional measures to prevent future violations.

Documents obtained from the Department of Human Services show that, when the plan of correction had not been fully implemented in January, the office placed CSSC under a six-month provisional license and again ordered a plan of correction.

By then, Krumenacker and Pletcher had removed their sons from the CSSC center and were caring for them in their own homes. They say they are running out of options.

“We are the first ones to tell you our kids aren’t perfect,” Krumenacker said. “I wish I could find a place where they can get out and do things on their own.”

‘Everyday issues’

In May, the state inspectors determined that CSSC had not completed its plan of correction and ordered all individuals removed from its homes. The company appealed the decision, but then closed its operation in June and voluntarily withdrew its appeal on July 16, documents provided by DHS show.

Before the company ceased operation, Vice President Shawn Rogers called the violations “normal issues.” He pointed out that none involved abuse or neglect.

“These are everyday issues that these group homes face,” he said. “It’s not just us. It’s everywhere.”

Rogers doesn’t believe the company was treated fairly by the state.

“We followed everything they wanted us to do,” he said.

While not identifying Krumenacker or Pletcher specifically, he and company CEO Karen Weakland said they believe the state was overreacting to a barrage of complaints by two mothers.

“We have one problem house, and it’s the parents,” Rogers said.

‘What’s going on’

The two mothers are not apologizing. They point to more severely disabled residents of some homes who are not able to communicate with family members.

“We have two boys who are verbal and tell us what’s going on,” Krumenacker said.

“Nobody wants parents who know what’s going on,” Pletcher said.

After it ceased operations, the company changed the homepage on its website. Under the headline: “Warning to new providers...Watch out!!!” is the message.

“Community Services & Support Corp. was placed on a provisional license based on some issues that were discovered during its regular yearly inspection. Community Services and Support was ‘provided’ an opportunity to rectify these issues. Several members from (Office of Developmental Programs) were aware they were going to shut this agency down regardless of the corrections that were made, trainings offered to management and staff.

“There were numerous outside sources with connections to high-ranking officials who made this possible. Two mothers working in conjunction with each other to help achieve this goal and put nonstop pressure on this agency. One mother is related to a county judge.”

Carrie Krumenacker has the same last name as Cambria County President Judge Norman A. Krumenacker III, but both deny any close relation or collusion.

Judge Krumenacker said he was contacted by Carrie Krumenacker about the website, and the two discussed her husband’s family members.

“There is really no relation,” he said. “I have no idea who they are. I mean, it’s not like our name is ‘Smith.’ If you go back into the 1800s, we might be sixth or seventh or ninth cousins. I had no knowledge or supervision of any investigation the state did. I’d have no say in it anyway.”

Inspections, violations

In response to Rogers’ claim that other providers faced similar issues that shut down his company, The Tribune-Democrat reviewed the inspection records of various group homes in Cambria County and found that several have had significant violations.

The nonprofit Cambria Residential Services, 338 Bloomfield St., Johnstown, was issued a provisional license earlier this year after several repeat violations. Some of the citations involved medication issues that may have led to a fall that injured a resident of one of its 20 homes. The provisional status was removed from the license earlier this month, when the state determined the plan of correction was completed.

Cambria Residential Services CEO James Cook said most of the violations were related to delayed doctor visits during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown in April 2020.

“In general, the state was super-supportive,” Cook said. “(The inspector) found lots of stuff that was helpful to me.”

The fact that it was several months between the initial inspection that identified the violations and the second inspection that led to the provisional license illustrates that the violations were not severe, Cook said.

“If there was real concern, they would have been back the next day and the day after that,” he said.

But violations such as those, coupled with the bad experiences with CSSC and other providers, have led the two mothers to lose confidence in the group home program.

Group homes for those with intellectual disabilities have been around for about 50 years, reflecting a time when the state began moving those individuals out of large institutions and into community settings.

Although she doesn’t believe in institutionalizing her son or others with similar issues, Krumenacker said the institutions have the advantage of an infrastructure that includes medical professionals, psychologists, dietitians and others with expertise she says is lacking in many group home settings.

Pletcher also said more expertise is needed.

“You don’t have nurses,” she said. “You don’t have anyone with some sort of education in medicine who understands their diagnosis.”

In addition to intellectual disability, both of their sons have been diagnosed with mental health disorders. The mothers say failure to keep their medication on schedule has led to problems.

They say those working in the homes don’t receive enough training.

Direct support professionals receive a minimum of 24 hours of training before they can work in a group home. That includes specific training for each individual’s needs and information on how to follow the individual support plans that are updated every year to include all the individual’s special needs and strategies for social, vocational and recreational engagement.

While they admit providing full-time supervision of their sons at home is exhausting, Krumenacker and Pletcher say they don’t see any viable options.

“Would I love to have a place where he could be cared for and they would be able to handle him? Absolutely,” Krumenacker said. “They are not out there.”

Pletcher said: “You feel like you have to fight to get any kind of help.”

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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