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Brown Schools reassures the wary

Neighbors of the facility express anger and fear over the prospect of having a treatment center full of troubled adolescents nearby.

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2000


BEVERLY HILLS -- About 120 people gathered at a Beverly Hills meeting hall Thursday night to learn more about -- and lodge complaints against -- the Brown Schools' plans to open a residential treatment facility in the old Heritage Hospital building on County Road 491.

Tony Ulterino, who lives near the old Heritage building, said he didn't want Citrus County to become "the dumping ground for criminals and psychopaths in the state of Florida."

Others accused the four Brown officials who attended the meeting of misrepresenting the terms of their state contracts.

Those Brown officials, meanwhile, repeated several points: The adolescents at that facility will not be adjudicated offenders, although some will be awaiting disposition of criminal charges in juvenile court; safety will be a top priority at the facility; and the Brown leadership will be attuned to community needs and concerns.

Brown, a private, Texas-based company, soon will begin accepting children who need residential treatment for mental health problems. They will be leasing the old Heritage building from its new owner, an Ocala property management company.

Brown holds several contracts with the Department of Children and Families. Those contracts call for the company to provide residential treatment for certain adolescent clients.

At its Citrus facility, Brown will treat sexual abuse victims, clients who are mentally retarded, and clients who have various psychiatric disorders.

Brown also will house some adolescents who have been deemed incompetent, because of mental retardation or psychiatric problems, to proceed in juvenile court. Brown's job is to help those children become competent to move forward in the courts.

Brown officials told the audience Thursday that they would like to build a fence around the facility property.

"That is an option we would like to pursue," said Laura Schuck, Brown's chief executive officer in Florida.

Schuck also said that residents need not fear that Brown will change the rules of the game and, sometime down the line, begin serving as a juvenile justice facility.

"As long as the Brown Schools is running that facility, I'd be happy to put it (the pledge) in writing," she said.

Schuck's strongest comments came in response to news that two former workers in a Brown facility in South Florida pleaded guilty to sexually battery of a female client. Those allegations, along with oversight problems at other Brown facilities, prompted the company to bring in a new slate of Florida leaders, including Schuck, who has been on the job less than one year.

"We had a problem in South Florida. Absolutely," Schuck said. "But not under my watch."

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