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Commentary, sarcasm and snide remarks from a Florida resident of over thirty years. Being a glutton for punishment is a requirement for residency here. Who am I? I've been called a moonbat by Michelle Malkin, a Right Wing Nut by Daily Kos, and middle of the road by Florida blog State of Sunshine. Tell me what you think.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Knuckleheads of the Day award

Today's winner is Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach and its Executive Director Tom Bila. On the same weekend a 2nd collection at mass is being collected for Catholic Charities, an article in the Palm Beach Post details how the charity is closing two homes for disabled adults. Nazareth Homes are to be closed August 31st.

Read the Post article. I've noted before, the Church while talking about charity is really very tight fisted when it comes to money. Unbelievably so, and that's why we don't give money to the Bishop's Annual appeal. The diocese and its charities would rather cut off health insurance to a diocese employee on pregnancy bedrest than lose its precious money. One day those responsible for that and the below story will have their reckoning with God.

For abandoning the disabled, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach and its Executive Director Tom Bila are today's knuckleheads of the day.

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BOCA RATON — Claiming that Catholic Charities betrayed them, a small group of families is fighting to keep the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach from closing the Nazareth Homes for disabled adults.

Catholic Charities, the social services arm of the diocese, wrote to the families in April informing them that two of the homes would be closing on Aug. 31. The third home is already closed and for sale.

Family members say the closing is unnecessary and cruel to residents who are already emotionally fragile in the wake of an Aug. 19 accident that killed one of their number.

The charity's decision came after five families of residents injured in an August van crash filed negligence suits against Catholic Charities.

In May, Sunrise Communities, a nonprofit management company, offered $1 million to keep the homes running, but Catholic Charities rejected its offer as too low, said the company owner, Les Leech. As of late last week, he had not had any further contact with Catholic Charities.

But after The Palm Beach Post started inquiring about the closing, a Catholic Charities spokeswoman said negotiations with Leech were continuing.

"We continue to be in very active communication with Sunrise," diocese spokeswoman Alexis Walkenstein said Friday afternoon. "Catholic Charities recently approved sale of the Nazareth Homes for $1 million. Because the negotiations process is ongoing, we have no further comment."

Sunrise owner Leech said he was surprised to get a call this week from Catholic Charities Executive Director Tom Bila.

"I thought I was out of it; I thought it was no-go," he said. "But he said they are considering it and I will call him on Tuesday to see where we are. It's unofficial, but it sounds like it might come together."

Bila could not be reached for comment.

"That's just great," said Amy Johnson, aunt of Jesse Betancourt, who has Down syndrome and lives in Columbia House, one of the three Nazareth Homes. "You know, the bishop has been getting a lot of e-mails from us. We know the money is there."

Homes 'where Jesus lived'

The decision to close the homes came after a van accident in which one resident was killed and 12 were injured, several seriously. The van driver, who had just been hired, had a suspended license when she veered off the road and through a concrete barrier, hitting a tree.

Five families, including that of the man who was killed, are suing the diocese, Catholic Charities and the driver for negligence.

Jesse Betancourt was a close friend of Michael Cass, the man killed in the crash, and Lori Hoyt, a Special Olympics athlete who suffered head injuries. Betancourt sustained several broken bones, including his clavicle. He has had emotional problems since the crash and has had difficulty working at the Habilitation Center, a sheltered workshop in suburban Boca Raton. He has been prescribed antidepressants and grief counseling, his brother said.

The homes originally were bought through private fund-raising by families and friends of disabled adults and managed by Sister Rita Baum, who had been head of the diocese ministry for people with disabilities. Money from families supplemented state grants for people with disabilities.

The name Nazareth was chosen to evoke the biblical home of Jesus Christ.

"They were to be the homes where Jesus lived," said Margaret Doucette, whose son, Jack, lives in Columbia House. "I don't want to see people shoved to the outside. It's injustice."

Family members say the homes were conceived with a strong Catholic influence, modeled on L'Arche, an international Catholic organization for disabled people. Residents, staff and volunteers regularly prayed together, attended Mass and socialized with the community around them.

In 1995, the parents group gave the three houses, which they bought with the help of private donations, to the diocese. Catholic Charities and a representative of the parents signed a contract specifying that Catholic Charities would continue to operate them as long as the original residents were able and willing to live there.

The contract also specified that Baum would continue as manager. After Catholic Charities took over, Baum was first demoted, then removed from Nazareth. Baum now works in Jacksonville for L'Arche.

Claims of mismanagement

After Catholic Charities took over, volunteers stopped visiting, house activities decreased and the residents began spending more time alone in their rooms. Staff and management turnover accelerated, several parents said.

Helene Licursi of Pompano Beach sent a written complaint in December to a member of Catholic Charities' board that when she returned her daughter from an outing, she found an unknown man at Columbia House. He identified himself as a staff member's boyfriend. Licursi saw no staff members at the house.

She also criticized the shoddy quality of work by staffers.

"There are times when staff does nothing more than sit on the couch, completely relaxed," she wrote.

After hearing about the proposed closing of Nazareth Homes, Leech offered the diocese $1 million to take over management of the homes, keeping the original residents.

The current taxable value of the three homes is slightly more than $1 million, according to county records.

Leech, who operates group homes in five states, said he was reasonably confident he could reduce the estimated $250,000 Nazareth deficit within about a year by filling the homes to their capacity of six adults each and activating grants to help support its operation.

The houses are below capacity because Catholic Charities did not allow several residents to return after the van crash, saying that their staff could not handle the residents' medical needs.

Some residents have moved to other group homes, in anticipation of the Nazareth homes' closing next month.

Negotiations stalled when the diocese said it would take no less than $1.5 million for the houses, Leech said.

In the letter explaining the closing, Catholic Charities officials wrote that costs have risen sharply in recent years.

In 2004, Nazareth Homes had a $57,000 deficit. By 2005, the loss had increased to $134,000, according to Catholic Charities records

Cross posted to Bullwinkle Blog

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