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What appears to be an ordinary single-family residence on Euclid Boulevard in West Asheville is actually one of three family care homes for mentally ill adults that the company formerly known as Nutz R Us operates in Buncombe County. This facility was known as Haywood Heights Family Care Home, which is now also the name of the parent company. Frank Taylor / Carolina Public Press

ASHEVILLE — Nutz R Us is no more.

The corporation that operates three Buncombe County family care homes for mentally ill adults filed paperwork with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office on July 12 to change its name to Haywood Heights Family Care Home, reflecting one of the company’s two West Asheville homes that was already operating under the “Haywood Heights” name.

But there’s no indication that anything changed other than the name of the organization, despite state inspectors citing its homes for repeated violations over the last year.

And Carolina Public Press has discovered additional evidence that the staff at Nutz R Us facilities not only treated their clients with contempt, but bragged about it on social media.

Under pressure

The name change comes following a Carolina Public Press investigation published June 25.

That article appears to have received wide readership and already has become one of the most-viewed articles in CPP history, according to Google Analytics’ statistics for CPP articles. Several other publications also reprinted or linked to the CPP article by agreement.

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WUNC radio interviewed CPP’s managing editor about Nutz R Us for statewide broadcast on its midday program, the State of Things. The interview discussed not only the company but concerns about state health inspections and the for-profit guardianship companies that sometimes make placements at such facilities.

The California-based debunking website Snopes.com published an article June 27 citing CPP’s reporting as evidence that the state of North Carolina actually allowed an organization serving mentally ill adults and calling itself Nutz R Us to operate and the company was not just urban legend.

Several individuals working with various advocacy groups for the mentally ill in Western North Carolina contacted CPP about the situation, indicating they were pushing local and state government agencies, especially in Buncombe and Henderson counties, to stop doing business with Nutz R Us. However, they also described divisions even with advocacy groups as some parties were concerned about the political fallout of pushing the state to crack down.

In the end, Nutz R Us appears to have acted on its own, though its possible that some government officials were encouraging the change behind the scenes. Several public officials CPP spoke with during the original investigation described their revulsion at the company’s name alongside a legal inability to do anything about it.

The company’s paperwork to change its name indicates that its board of directors and shareholders agreed on the name change on July 11, as an amendment to its articles of incorporation. There’s no indication of any change in leadership as owner Forrestene “Tina” Muckelvene continues to serve as the company’s president.

Muckelvene has never returned calls from CPP seeking to interview her about the organization.

Social Media boasts

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services inspections of Nutz R Us turned up a range of violations, including disgusting and unsanitary conditions in food areas and bathrooms, delays in building maintenance and lapses in patient services, including “forgetting” the injections a schizophrenic patient needed to avoid hearing voices.

Those infractions apparently earn family care homes in North Carolina a loss of a star under the state’s four-star rating system. In theory, repeated serious violations should result in the closure of a home.

DHHS was apparently unaware that at least one employee of Nutz R Us has posted to Facebook joking about mistreatment of residents. CPP has downloaded screenshots of some posts in order to preserve a record of the comments.

On August 8, 2015, a self-identified Nutz R Us employee, Tanya Michelle, posted her status as “feeling proud at Nutz R Us” in Asheville. In the same post, she asked, “How do you convince a 66 yr old man that hasn’t had a shower in months to let you give him one??? … you buy him cigarettes! Yes I’m good at my job!”

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In response to comments from friends, she posted, “I almost thought I was gonna have to starve next month cause washing dirty balls and ass that hasn’t had soap & water for months was most definitely out of my comfort zone this evening!!! Lol.”

A friend told Michelle she shouldn’t be giving a patient cigarettes and advised her to”just Lysol him down and call it a day.”

Michelle responded, “Lol you can bribe them though.”

DHHS inspectors have cited Nutz R Us facilities for serving food that didn’t comply with approved nutritional meal plans. Michelle’s posts also seem to back up the idea that deviating from the scripted meal plan was common practice and viewed as a way for employees to ingratiate themselves with residents.

“I love spoiling my peeps I take care of!” she posted, immediately before her posts about the unwashed resident. “Once again #beastmode in the kitchen for my guys … BBQ ribs, greens, cornbread and cheesecake for dessert. And yes I am loved.”

Because no one at the company formerly known as Nutz R Us has returned CPP’s calls, it has not been possible to determine whether Michelle continues to be employed with the organization.

Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor is the managing editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact him at ftaylor@carolinapublicpress.org.

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