RICHLAND HILLS — The state is investigating complaints that the owner of several small group homes in Tarrant County may be operating an assisted living facility without a license.Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott won a temporary restraining order against Chris Jones and the organization he founded, Circle of Helping Hands, on Monday after Jones refused to allow investigators from the state Department of Aging and Disability Services into a home. After filing a lawsuit in Tarrant County civil court, the state asked for temporary and permanent restraining orders in an effort to shut down a facility at 6940 Richlynn Terrace in a bid to protect the residents and “determine whether any resident neglect has occurred …”Richland Hills officials said Tuesday that it appears that Jones has already moved the residents out of the home and is in the process of moving out of the property. State officials said that Jones is not required to report where the residents are now living.Jones denied any wrongdoing in an interview with the Star-Telegram and said he was operating a “boarding facility” to help the homeless and others down on their luck. A boarding facility does not have to be licensed, he said.“This [Circle of Helping Hands] is a nonprofit organization,” Jones said. “This is a boarding home to help people who are on the streets.” Jones added that Richland Hills officials “bullied” him and those living in the home, because the city didn’t want the boarding house in a residential area.State district Judge Tom Lowe has set a court date for Oct. 17 to hear arguments on granting a permanent restraining order against the facility in Richland Hills.“Didn’t look right”Richland Hills officials said they became suspicious about what was going on at the facility in late June when paramedics responded to a 911 call and, when they entered the home, discovered people “in various states of ability to care for themselves.”“Things just didn’t look right to the paramedics,” said Assistant City Manager Eric Strong.Strong said city officials immediately met with Jones to determine what kind of facility he was operating and whether it was licensed. An assisted living facility, according to the state’s lawsuit, is an establishment that offers food and shelter to four or more individuals while also offering personal care services such as administration of medication.“We told Jones that we thought he was operating an unlicensed facility, but we were waiting on a determination from the state,” he said.The 911 calls from employees and people living at the home continued throughout the summer, Strong said. But he said the city became especially concerned when one of the residents was found unresponsive in the home by paramedics in September.Strong said the 911 call came about five hours after employees said they could not awaken the man, who later died in hospice care.“I’m not blaming the operator for the death, but we should have been called sooner,” Strong said.Details about the man’s identity, or his cause of death, were not available Wednesday.Other facilitiesBefore the man’s death, Strong said the city contacted the state about once a week concerning the Richlynn Terrace home, but ratcheted up the calls to several times a week after the death.Melissa Gale, a spokeswoman from the Department of Aging and Disability Services, said in an emailed statement that after investigators visited the home on Aug. 1, they found that Jones was in violation of licensing requirements.Gale wrote that the department had investigated the property previously after several complaints that the home was being operated as an unlicensed facility. On Sept. 3, the matter was turned over to the attorney general. State investigators visited the home on Sept. 9 and found nine residents, but found that no services were being provided.Gale also said that Jones owns a licensed assisted living facility at 4919 Chapman Street in Fort Worth. In its letter to the attorney general’s office, the Aging and Disability Services Department also referred to another home that Jones operates at 6405 Greenbriar Lane.In 2011, investigators visited the Greenbriar Lane home and found only two residents, so the facility did not need to be licensed. But when the state revisited the home on Sept. 9 this year, there were nine people living in the home who were receiving personal care services.Jones was found to be in violation of licensing requirements and illegally operating an unlicensed assisted living facility.“Disrupting people’s lives”Jones said he doesn’t turn anyone away who needs help.He started the Circle of Helping Hands in June and said he is using money from his own pocket to operate the homes. Information from the Texas Comptroller’s website shows that the Circle of Helping Hands is located at the home on Greenbriar.Jones said he started out in the oil field industry and is using money he saved for college.“They’re wanting us out of that city so badly that they are disrupting people’s lives,” he said.
Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696 Twitter: @fwstliz