Problems at D.C.-funded AIDS program also reported at homes for mentally ill

By Debbie Cenziper
Thursday, February 4, 2010

The founder of a city-funded AIDS program that recently closed amid reports of alleged fraud and neglect also operated eight facilities for the mentally ill that were racked for years by similar problems, city officials said.

Marilyn Hill began receiving licenses from the D.C. Department of Mental Health in 2002 to operate community residential facilities for people with mental illnesses. Property records show Hill rented most of the houses, which were based in Northwest and Northeast Washington neighborhoods.

District long-term care ombudsman Gerald Kasunic recently told The Washington Post that he verified 59 cases of abuse, exploitation, poor care, financial irregularities and other problems at the facilities, dating to 2005. Kasunic, whose office represents residents in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and group homes, said he forwarded the findings to the Department of Mental Health, but the agency repeatedly renewed Hill's licenses.

In 2008, after three years of complaints, the city opted not to renew the licenses.

"We've brought this to the attention of Mental Health as far back as 2005," Kasunic said. "I remember the frustration of trying to get them to move forward."

While Hill operated homes for the mentally ill, her nonprofit group, Hill's Community Residential Support Services, drew money from the D.C. Department of Health's HIV/AIDS Administration to house women with AIDS. The house closed last fall, with former employees describing unpaid bills, doctored records and shoddy care.

Unrenewed licenses

Unlike the HIV/AIDS Administration, which awarded more than $1 million in grants to Hill's program, the Department of Mental Health provided no money. Instead, with a license from the agency, Hill drew fees for room and board from her clients' Social Security payments and other public benefits.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles confirmed the problems at Hill's mental health facilities, including a lack of staff, improperly stored medications and lapses in insurance coverage. He said Hill voluntarily closed two of the houses in 2005. In 2008, Nickles said, the Department of Mental Health opted not to renew the remaining licenses after the agency "took progressive enforcement action against [the homes] due to her poor management and violation of Department of Mental Health rules."

"The administration has worked hard to reform many District agencies," Nickles said. "While we've made great progress, there is still a long way to go. But we are committed to ensuring that the city provides the best possible services and partners with the best providers."

Kasunic said the Department of Mental Health took little action against Hill for years. He said his frustration grew after he learned from a recent Washington Post report about Hill's years-long partnership with the HIV/AIDS Administration, which continued to fund Hill's AIDS program despite complaints from clients and scathing reports from the agency's monitors.

"It should never have gotten this far," Kasunic said. "We have 4 1/2 years of history with Marilyn Hill."

Hill could not be reached for comment. Previously, she defended her AIDS program, telling The Post that disgruntled employees were making false statements. She denied wrongdoing.

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