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Need for care homes part of 'perfect storm'

This residential property at 910 N. Davis St. in Albany is being proposed as a personal care home.

This residential property at 910 N. Davis St. in Albany is being proposed as a personal care home.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Randy Bailey admits he's genuinely puzzled by the outpouring of opposition that has arisen in the Rawson Circle neighborhood over his and wife Lauren's plans to establish a Community Living Arrangement facility for three women at the 109 N. Davis Street home he's been leasing since September of 2010.

He points out the care he's taking to secure the integrity of the historic neighborhood, from installing a handicap ramp and establishing parking spaces in a fenced-in backyard that make them unviewable from adjacent streets to the strict maintenance guidelines -- inside and outside -- required of the operators of such facilities.

Yet the opposition, expressed by Rawson Circle residents at the Albany City Commission's work session last Tuesday, rages on: online, through an organized opposition letter campaign and in calls to members of the City Commission.

"It's frustrating," Bailey said Friday. "It's not like we're planning to bring in residents with drug and alcohol problems or anyone who's going to cause concerns in the neighborhood. We're talking about people with disabilities, people who did not have a choice about the way they're forced to live.

"These people have a right to live as complete a life as they can, just like all the rest of us."

Bailey asked the City Commission to lift a moratorium placed on the opening of personal care homes so that he could move forward with work on the North Davis home. He said every day that the facility is not open is costing him more than $450 and is denying residents a place to live.

The moratorium, enacted by the city so that, as Commissioner Bob Langstaff said Tuesday, it can "play catch-up" with its new ordinance governing such facilities, expires at the end of January. City Planning Director Paul Forgey said a new ordinance that will be considered by the commission will define restrictions on personal care facilities, but he said those restrictions will follow federal statutes.

"I would never recommend that the city enact legislation that would run afoul of federal law," Forgey said Friday. "There are very restrictive (personal care laws) on the books in various cities now that contradict state and federal law. But those cities, if they ever get sued, stand to lose, and they'll lose a lot of money in the process."

Forgey said the amended personal care facility ordinance recommended by Planning will limit such facilities from locating within 1,000 feet of any other kind of personal care facility. And it will require operators to acquire a state license.

Bailey said his proposed facility already meets the requirements of the new ordinance.

"We were in compliance before they put the moratorium in place, and we'll be in compliance when they pass the new ordinance," he said. "We already have two Community Living Arrangement facilities in place -- one on Club Drive in Albany, and one in Vidalia, Lauren's hometown -- and there are much stricter requirements for those type of facilities (than for other types of personal care homes).

"We asked for an exception to the moratorium because we want to move forward. But it's going to happen one way or another."

The need for personal care facilities like the one the Baileys are proposing became critical in Georgia when the Department of Justice brought a lawsuit against the state, saying Georgia was "warehousing" citizens in need of individualized care. As part of a settlement of the lawsuit, and because the state has made significant cuts to its budget, residents of state-run facilities are being moved to private personal care homes.

The Baileys were approached by family members of residents in the Rosehaven facility in Thomasville who wanted their relatives in close proximity.

"We chose the house on Davis because it is two blocks away from the hospital and is close to other (health care) services," Randy Bailey said. "The Individualized Service Plans of all three people (who would move into the facility) call for them to have individual care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have to provide sufficient staff to meet those needs.

"We don't look at what we do as keeping people alive, which is what you get at some facilities. We look at it as giving them a life."

The Baileys started their health care business when Lauren Bailey, who is a nurse, started teaching first aid/CPR classes for the Albany Advocacy Resource Center.

"Lauren told me how great it was, how much she loved being involved," Randy Bailey said. "I went with her to an awards banquet, and when I saw how the faces of the people at the banquet lit up when I spoke to them with respect, the deal was sealed."

Bailey, who had worked in construction up to that time, started the process of becoming a certified care provider.

Langstaff said Friday his comments at Tuesday's commission meeting were an attempt to prepare Rawson Circle residents on hand for the reality of the situation they opposed.

"People don't understand this situation because they've never had to deal with it," he said Friday. "Basically, the federal government has said that children with handicaps have as much a right to live in a neighborhood and enjoy the benefits of that neighborhood as my children -- or anyone else's -- do.

"The courts have repeatedly said that you can't deny any citizen those rights, and we'd be fools to try and challenge them. Federal law says restrictions (on citizens' residential rights) can only be tailored to meet valid public safety concerns. That's not the case here."

Langstaff said the increased need for personal care facilities, and attempts to locate them in more affluent residential neighborhoods, arose from a "perfect storm" of social change.

"The state, because of the lawsuit and because of the economy, is giving money to these facilities to help take care of individuals it's moving out of state-run facilities," he said. "And since real estate values are down, even in the more affluent neighborhoods, it opens up housing opportunities that were not available 20 years ago."

Bailey, meanwhile, said he's shocked at comments that suggest he's only out to make a dollar.

"We're a business, and the idea behind any business is to make enough money to stay in business," he said. "And, yes, we'll make a little money from (the care home). But that's not why we're doing what we do. That's not why we went through two years to get all the license requirements. That's not why we spend money to make sure our clients are a fit for our facilities and that they will get the attention they deserve.

"I promise you, if you had met the people in our Club Drive facility while they were in the hospital and then see them now, you'd see what an incredible change we've made in their lives and in their quality of life. That's why we do what we do."