Residents of a retirement home in Madison couldn’t get a simple question answered: why wasn’t the company cashing their monthly rent checks?
Faye Leopard, 87, knew something wasn't right.
"We kept waiting and waiting for them to clear," Faye Leopard said.
She and her 93-year-old husband Ernie moved to Maybelle Carter’s assisted living facility in May. She said the checks her son wrote every month to the home’s operators were not cashed, and the company offered no explanation.
"That's what we keep asking ourselves: 'What happened?" she said.
The News 4 I-Team found the uncashed check problem was not isolated to Nashville; the same thing has been going on at four retirement homes in Vermont, as well as one in Indianapolis, and another in Charlotte, North Carolina.
All the homes were managed by affiliates of the same company, East Lake Capital out of Dallas, Texas.
Uncashed checks were just the tip of the iceberg.
The problems in Vermont were so serious that the state sued East Lake to take over four of East Lake's homes. In court documents, Vermont state officials said they took immediate action to “prevent death or serious mental and physical harm” to residents.
Utilities sent cut-off notices; suppliers stopped delivering food and “the nursing staff are now failing to show up for their shifts,” the Vermont Attorney General wrote.
Faye Leopard said Maybelle Carter also had issues covering shifts.
"They are short on staff here,” she said.
She said each floor of the four-story building is supposed to have three attendants on duty at all times; she said that many nights, there wasn’t even one.
She said no one was working on her floor the night her husband fell in their kitchen.
"There was not a soul down in this hall, anywhere,” she said.
She said they pressed their emergency help buttons but no one came.
"What did that feel like?" asked the I-Team’s Nancy Amons.
"Desperation. Desperation," Faye Leopard said.
Court documents and inspection reports show serious problems at East Lake's retirement home in Charlotte, North Carolina.
North Carolina's inspectors found dirty, sticky floors, a disabled fire alarm and exposed wiring. They found attendants laying absorbent pads on chairs after residents complained about sitting in urine.
Infection control was lacking, inspectors said, with no action taken to prevent the spread of scabies, which is “highly infectious.”
State inspection reports also said one resident left the Charlotte facility in his wheelchair but that staff didn’t know he was missing. Someone found the man at a gas station one-quarter of a mile away on busy highway.
In Nashville, Maybelle Carter’s license is valid, according to the state’s website. The website shows there has not been an inspection since 2016. Residents and family members told News 4 that Tennessee inspectors have recently been at Maybelle Carter asking questions.
Residents told News 4 there have been some maintenance issues, such as the front doors malfunctioning and elevator buttons not lighting up when pressed.
"We want some changes. So thanks for doing this," said Faye Leopard.
Why would a company decline to deposit rent checks from its residents when it seemed to need the money?
East Lake's CEO is Andrew White. White said in court filings that he froze the company's Wells Fargo bank account after discovering "potential misconduct" by accounting employees.
A lawsuit filed by a group of investors sets forth a different theory; that White “refused to deposit several million dollars” in an effort to hide the funds from his creditors.
Maybelle Carter's building is owned by a company in Murfreesboro - National Health Investors. NHI has cancelled East Lake's contracts to run Maybelle Carter, as well as the homes in Charlotte and Indianapolis. NHI does not own the Vermont homes.
NHI’s CEO Eric Mendelsohn told News 4’s Nancy Amons that NHI has contracted with a new management company after successfully suing to remove East Lake.
Mendelsohn said NHI will pay food vendors who are owed money and that NHI will make things right with others who have not been paid.
He said NHI will announce the new management company as soon at the state of Tennessee approves it application for a license.
"That's good news. We need some changes," Faye Leopard told the I-Team.