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'He's not related to us': So how did a group home owner become an intellectually disabled man's beneficiary?

Leroy Anderson Jr. had the mind of a child. With a life insurance policy on the line, his family and caretakers are trading accusations of exploitation.

Tanya Eiserer, Jason Trahan

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Leroy Anderson Jr. depended on others to take care of him.

Those that know him say he had the intellect of a child. He was diabetic, schizophrenic and bipolar. He lived in a Dallas group home until his death last year. He was 49 years old.

His family members say his caretakers failed him. They’re demanding to know what happened in the hours leading up to him being brought to a Dallas hospital in a diabetic coma and near death. They are upset that the owner of the company being paid by the state to care of him may get a big payout as a result of his death.

A former employee of the company that ran Leroy's group home told WFAA that she reported Leroy’s death to Adult Protective Service because she believed there was evidence of neglect.

David Hunt, Leroy’s uncle, said APS officials have refused to tell him the status of the investigation.

Hunt said losing Leroy was a bit like losing a son. He’d promised his sister before she died that he would look after Leroy.

“I don’t want to see nobody else go through the things that Leroy went through,” Hunt said.

Credit: WFAA
Leroy Anderson Jr. (left) and his uncle David Hunt

Caring for Leroy

According to those who knew him, Leroy was a people person. He liked to sing. He like to eat out. He loved buying new clothes.

And those who know them both say Leroy loved his uncle David Hunt.

The pair last saw each other at a local barbecue restaurant. They made plans to get together again. That was last year. Hunt said the next time he would see Leroy was in a coma, just hours from death.

At the time of his death, Leroy was living in a Dallas group home on Ryanridge Drive run by a DeSoto company called A Champion Home and Community Based Services. The state was paying for his care under what’s called a Medicaid waiver program intended to keep the intellectually disabled out of institutions. Basically, taxpayer dollars paid for Leroy’s care.

Leroy was on many medications, ranging from diabetic medications to antipsychotic drugs to keep voices in his head quiet, according to his medical records, which Hunt – Leroy’s next of kin – shared with WFAA.

Despite all the ailments, Leroy was “doing well” at his last doctor’s visit in May, records show.

One Sunday morning

On a Sunday morning last July, one of Leroy’s caretakers called 911. His caretakers told the staff at Charleston Methodist Hospital in Dallas that they had found him unresponsive in his bed. Paramedics resuscitated Leroy on the way to the hospital, according to hospital records.

His caretakers told the hospital’s staff that he had been having “manic episode” and hadn’t been eating much for several days, according to his hospital records.

“If he’s not eating and taking medication, that’s going to really make him sick,” said Vanessa Rollerson, one of his former caretakers. Leroy lived with her for about eight months in 2017.

According to the hospital records, the group home’s workers said Leroy had been “in bed all day and (they) assumed he was sleeping” the day before he was brought to the hospital. Records show they reported Leroy seemed “normal” when they checked him at bedtime. But he was found in the “same position” the next morning and wouldn’t wake up, records show.

“Patient has been down for an unknown amount of time,” a hospital staff member wrote.

By the time Leroy arrived at the hospital, his heart, kidneys and lungs were failing, and he was suffering from “severe sepsis,” according to hospital records. Records show he was dehydrated, and his blood sugar was dangerously low. His body temperature was 88 degrees. He had pneumonia from vomiting and choking on it. Doctors put him on a breathing machine.

“He had doctors all around him and he had tubes all in his mouth,” Hunt said.

Leroy died the next day, July 30, 2018. The Dallas County medical examiner concluded that Leroy died from heart disease and a diabetic coma. His death is listed as natural.

“He was critically ill, in no uncertain terms,” said Shezad Malik, a doctor and local attorney specializing in medical malpractice.

Malik is not involved in Leroy’s case. He reviewed hundreds of pages of Leroy’s medical records at the request of WFAA.

He said Leroy’s medical records indicate that he was in “relatively good shape” and that his medical conditions were under control. Malik told WFAA that he believes Leroy would still be alive today if the group home’s staff had had been checking on him.

“There is evidence of neglect,” Malik said. “I am frankly shocked by the degree and how incapacitated he was when he came to the emergency room.”

A surprise

Leroy’s death was a tragic loss for his family, but what happened next left them speechless.

On the day Leroy died, his uncle contacted the insurance company to report Leroy’s death.

That’s when he said he found out that Trace Henderson, the owner of A Champion Home and Community Based Services, was listed as the primary beneficiary on Leroy’s $50,000 life insurance policy, and not him.

“My family is pretty upset about it,” Hunt said. “He’s not related to us and he didn’t pay a dime on Leroy’s insurance policy.”

The insurance company has filed a lawsuit against both Hunt and Henderson and is asking a Dallas civil court to determine who should get the money, court records show.

“In conflict with the claim of Trace Henderson, defendant, David Hunt, is asserting that the change of the policy beneficiary dated September 18, 2017, was improper,” the lawsuit says, “and defendant, David Hunt, is asserting a claim for the entire policy death benefit.”

Court records show that the policy was originally taken out in 2009 by Leroy’s mother. She paid the premiums until her death in early 2017, Hunt said.

In March 2017, not long after his mother’s death, Leroy named his uncle the primary beneficiary, according to court records.

The next month, there was a meeting at A Champion’s offices, his therapist wrote in notes provided to WFAA by Hunt.

At the meeting were Leroy, Hunt, Rollerson, Henderson, A Champion’s program manager and others, the notes show.

There was a “heated discussion about the policy and the beneficiaries,” the therapist wrote.

The notes said it was decided that since Hunt “was a blood relative,” it was important that he be the primary beneficiary. The notes say A Champion’s program director further “stated Leroy must keep the designated beneficiaries and make no further changes.”

“Everyone agreed the decisions made at this meeting were in Leroy's best interest,” the therapist wrote.

A few months later, in September 2017, the primary beneficiary was changed from Hunt to Henderson, court records show.

WFAA spoke to the former A Champion employee who said she helped Leroy change the policy, which she said was done with a phone call to the insurance company. She declined to go on camera, but insisted that Leroy wanted Henderson, not Hunt, to be beneficiary. She said Leroy was able to make his own medical and legal decisions because he was his own legal guardian. She also told WFAA she was the one who initially reported Leroy’s death as neglect to Adult Protective Services.

Leroy’s therapist’s notes, spanning a six-month period, describe Leroy as having a “child’s mind” and “diminished mental capacity.”

“Leroy's insight will always be childlike, understandable given his low intellectual abilities,” his therapist wrote.

His therapist wrote he could “not count backwards” and “had difficulty repeating words back if asked.”

“He tends to listen to others and follow suggestions made to him that have little to do with reality,” the therapist wrote.

Conflict of interest?

So, what are the rules about whether a provider can be the beneficiary of a client’s life insurance policy?

WFAA asked the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), which oversees group homes for intellectually disabled people like Leroy.

Commission rules say providers and their employees should avoid “conflicts of interest” with the clients they serve.

But Kelli Weldon, a commission spokeswoman, said the “the rules do not specifically address” whether a provider, staff member or paid caregiver can be “named a beneficiary on a client’s policy.”

The commission is now reviewing the rule language to determine whether legislation is needed to fix the issue, she said.

Attorney Rick O’Connor has handled guardianship cases for four decades. He’s not involved in Leroy’s case, but told WFAA, generally, he doesn’t think providers who are not relatives should be the beneficiary on a client’s life insurance policy.

“That seems highly improper to me,” he said. “I think you're taking advantage of a special relationship, where you have knowledge of the person's deficits and vulnerabilities.”

In May, two months before Leroy’s death, HHSC inspectors visited A Champion’s group home on Ryanridge, where Leroy lived.

The inspection found the kitchen was not accessible for clients to get water or food; that “direct care staff did not know what constitutes exploitation”; and that “direct care staff did not know the requirements for reporting abuse, neglect or exploitation.”

‘Exploit his death’

Henderson declined requests for an on-camera interview.

In an email, Henderson wrote that he could not “comment on specifics of any case due to confidentiality."

“We would like the world to know about the kind soul that was Leroy Anderson,” he added. “Over the past three years Mr. Anderson became like family to us, his smile, soft spoken voice would light up a room. He loved gospel music and eating Mexican food. He has friends here that miss him dearly.”

His email also made an apparent reference to Hunt.

“What is more disheartening than his passing is that distant relatives who had NO interest in his well-being in life, now seek to exploit his death,” the email said.

Hunt called that a “big lie.”

Hunt said he frequently hard a hard time contacting Leroy, and he believes A Champion tried to keep Leroy away from him and other family members.

“Leroy was just another paycheck for them,” Hunt said.

Rollerson said A Champion did not want Leroy to have anything to do with his family. When Leroy’s mother died in early 2017, Rollerson said A Champion employees told her not to let Leroy mingle at the funeral and not take him to the cemetery.

“David loved Leroy, and he loved him,” Rollerson said. “He shouldn’t have died like that.”

Leroy is buried in the same Ellis County cemetery as his mother.

“I do believe he’s in a better place,” his uncle said.

Hunt said after Leroy died, Henderson paid some of the burial costs. That didn’t include a headstone, which Hunt said he himself can’t afford. So, for now, Leroy’s grave is unmarked.

“I won’t give up on him,” he said.

How do you find a good group home or provider?

If you're searching for a good group home or service provider for an intellectually and developmentally disabled relative or loved one, you won't find much looking at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission's Long-term Care (LTC) Provider Search, which doesn't include abuse or neglect investigations or sanctions.

HHSC offers these tips on vetting a provider or home:

  • Talk with your LIDDA (local intellectual and developmental disability authority) service coordinator. When evaluating a certified HCS program provider, it's important that you talk to the provider, see what services they offer, and think about whether your family member would be a good fit with that service provider. Talk with everyone you can, including the program administrator, director, and house manager.
  • Once you have narrowed down a list of certified HCS program providers, ask for home visits at each. Look at the cleanliness of each house, talk with the staff and find out if the staff knows the people in the home. Ask whether your family member will be placed in that particular home. Notice the interaction between staff and residents, and interaction among the staff. Look in the bathrooms and the bedrooms.
  • Once your family member is in an HCS group home, visit the home frequently to check on your family member. Drop in unannounced at different times during the day.
  • The LTC Provider Search is a tool that you can use to help make a list of program providers to consider visiting. HCS homes receive routine inspections once annually. Because the LTC Provider Search shows information from a limited time period, is a reflection of the program providers’ most current compliance history/items that are still out of compliance. The LTC Provider Search does not reflect recommendations of any specific provider by HHSC.
  • The “deficiency cited” language provides basic information about the deficiency type. Also, remember that a provider cited for non-compliance has a right to appeal. If the appeal is successful, the deficiency is amended or removed from the provider's record on the LTC website. Therefore, the investigation rating may improve as the result of such a reversal.