ROMULUS (WXYZ) - What happened to Quantez Poole is still a mystery, but if former home health aide Tuwana Bowler is right, the 27-year-old is a victim of a system that was supposed to protect him.
"When I walked in and I seen him it was like: oh my God, what happened to him?" Bowler said.
To unravel this case, and everything that went wrong, you have to start at a nondescript house in Romulus: a home to three people who, like Quantez, suffer from profound mental disabilities.
The home is run by a non-profit called Rgrps, which sends in people like Bowler to provide care.
Quantez was injured, Bowler says, because she was told he grabbed another aide – and, afraid for her safety, she started swinging with a skillet.
"When I asked her, like, what did he do when you hit him? She said, 'He let me go and looked at me like, 'How can I do that?' And he started crying.' But if you had seen the skillet and his head, I would have started crying too," Bowler said.
While the case is still under investigation by police, it raises deeper questions about the home he was in and an industry that cares for the disabled without the government watching.
No government inspections
Bowler has blown the whistle on Rgrps before, notifying county inspectors over a neglected elderly client back in 2012. It's a claim that the county’s office of recipient rights looked into and found to be true.
Companies like Rgrps aren’t licensed as adult foster care providers, and under state law, they don’t need to be. They’re called “extended homes,” and their operators say they offer more individualized treatment and choice for their clients than you’ll find in a traditional group home.
But unlike licensed facilities, “extended homes” aren’t visited by state or county inspectors.
"Routine monitoring of the home environment, routine monitoring of the staffing in the homes...in a setting that does not require a license, that would not be (the case)," says Sandy Peppers of the Detroit Wayne County Mental Health Authority.
A bout with meningitis at age two cost Quantez his hearing. Today, he is mentally handicapped and suffers from seizures, strokes and sickle cell anemia. He can’t speak and, when he has a hard time communicating, Quantez can become violent.
"He might grab on you too hard and the person might take that the wrong way," said his wheelchair bound father Melvin Robinson, who can't care for his son. "He might knock over furniture or something like that, he’s done that in the past."
Bowler says she quit Rgrps shortly after this incident took place. But weeks later, lawyers for Quantez’s father tracked her down. In a sworn statement, Bowler alleged Rgrps employees didn’t receive adequate training for dealing with aggressive clients like Quantez. Instead, she said, they were told only how to fight them off, and cover it up.
"If you leave a mark, let it be something you can explain," Bowler said she was told. "Let it be something where you can say Quantez did that himself."
Company pushes back
Bowler’s allegations have all been denied by Rgrps president, who declined to be interviewed for this story, but said Bowler is nothing more than a disgruntled former employee. Medical records show that when Rgrps staff brought Quantez to the emergency room, they told doctors he struck his head on a wall.
Today, police and state investigators are trying to figure out if that’s how it played out. An investigation by the Detroit Wayne County Mental Health Authority, who did not interview Bowler, said her allegation was “unsubstantiated.”
"We have an opportune time here," Peppers said, "to look at just the kinds of things you’re raising, some of the weaknesses in the system."
Peppers chairs the newly formed Quality Care Task Force at the Detroit Wayne County Mental Health Authority and said she already knows the adult foster care in Michigan is flawed. Even staff in licensed facilities don’t always receive uniform training in how to deal with sometimes-combative clients like Quantez.
"We are concerned that people that are most responsible may have the least amount of preparation to handle these very difficult situations," Peppers said.
As for Bowler, she’s working elsewhere now, but still in the same field. To those who might doubt her story, she says she has no reason to lie.
"There is no benefit for me. The benefit is...how I feel about me, and my own personal guilt for being involved with a company like that," she said.
"And me feeling as though when I was there, I was so scared that I didn't do enough."
Regardless of how Quantez got that lump on his head, his dad says it’s enough evidence that Rgrps wasn’t equipped to care for him in the first place. He moved him out from the facility the same day he saw the welt on his head.
The allegations raised by Bowler are now part of a civil lawsuit filed earlier this month by Quantez and his father.
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.