Not all is serene at Forest Manor


On Jan. 5, Lewis County sheriff's deputies responded to a fire at Forest Manor Retirement Center that may have been set by one of the residents.

Three other small fires apparently were set at the facility between Dec. 31 and New Year's Day, according to the center's owners and the county prosecutor.

On Nov. 29, deputies received a call from the boarding home about a possible drug violation, according to records at the sheriff's office. Two weeks prior, they had calls about a civil dispute and suspicious circumstances at the facility.

In October, they responded to three fire calls, two possible cases of fourth-degree assault and a report of malicious mischief.

In 2003, the sheriff's office received 70 calls from Forest Manor, involving everything from an attempted suicide report in September to various calls about fourth-degree assault, and a second-degree rape call in May.

The number of calls had more than doubled from the 32 received in 2002, according to the sheriff's records.

Officials at the sheriff's office are worried about these numbers, and they're worried about the complaints they have received from people living near the boarding home on Jackson Highway south of Chehalis, Chief Criminal Deputy Joe Doench said this week.

"That's a high number of calls to one location in the county," he said.

The owners of the facility, brothers Frances and Ron Steele, assured the sheriff's office during a meeting in early December that the residents causing problems were no longer living at Forest Manor, Doench said.

Ron Steele made the same statement to The Chronicle in a telephone interview this week.

However, since that meeting, deputies have responded to a number of calls including assault and the fire allegedly set by a resident last week, Doench said.

"We still have concerns," he said.

Jonnie Myers has concerns as well. So do her husband, Thomas, and many of their neighbors in Jackson View Estates. Their homes border Forest Manor to the northwest on Jackson Highway.

A few weeks ago, Jonnie Myers alleges, a male resident of Forest Manor broke windows out of a neighboring home.

She said she was on the porch and yelling at the man to stop breaking the windows when he turned and "charged" at her.

"I was scared out of my bejabbers," she said. "It was like one of those dreams where you're running away but everything is happening too slowly."

By the time she had her hand on the front door knob, he had a foot on the front step, she said. She had the door opened, closed and was just turning the deadbolt when she heard him hit the door, she said.

Her husband tried to shoo the man away from their cars when he was "charged," Jonnie Myers said. That was just after they had called 911.

"We were totally shaken," she said.

She and other neighbors are meeting with a sheriff's deputy today to press charges.

"A lot of the neighbors don't have a clue what's going on over there (at Forest Manor)," she said. "We didn't until this happened. We thought it was a retirement center."

Forest Manor used to be a nursing home facility. The Steeles bought it in 1989 after it had changed from a nursing home to an assisted-living facility. The brothers had about 20 years of experience running community care centers in Seattle before buying the Lewis County boarding home, Ron Steele said.

Forest Manor has an uncommon population for a boarding home. Out of the eight boarding homes in Lewis County, Forest Manor is the only one with a significant number of young residents living among its older inhabitants.

Residents are living at the center for a variety of reasons, but they are required to be in stable and predictable condition, able to get out of bed and need help only with daily living needs such as bathing and eating, according to state statute. They are also allowed to have visitors, and are free to come and go, according to the interim administrator.

At Forest Manor, residents live with a variety of health concerns from geriatric needs to disabilities to mental illness. Residents with mental health needs, or at least the 36 of those who the state said are on Medicaid, receive mental health services from the staff at Cascade Mental Health Care, in Chehalis, which is the local state-funded agency for mental health care services.

Timberlands Regional Support Network, the state agency in charge of allocating state and federal money for mental health patients in this region, is apparently in the process of signing a contract with Forest Manor to pay for people in the facility who don't qualify for Medicaid but who need mental health services, said Ann Rockway, an administrator at Timberlands.

The Steeles also have a contract with the Department of Social and Health Services to take up to five patients from Western State Hospital, the state's largest mental hospital, located in the Tacoma area, said Kevin Krueger, regional administrator of Home and Community Services at DSHS.

This is not the first time Forest Manor has had problems with residents or management. The Steeles managed the facility for a number of years and were planning to sell Forest Manor to AAA Residential Services owner Joseph O'Connor in 2002. O'Connor and his administrator, psychologist Dr. Richard Peterson, ran the facility from June 2002 until Oct. 31, 2003.

The details are unclear, but it appears the deal to purchase went awry, and O'Connor said he believed he had to quit the facility.

Records from DSHS are perfectly clear, however, and they suggest that Forest Manor has has problems for a number of years.

In May 2001, the Steeles had to stop admitting residents after a resident committed suicide, according to the state records. A state inspection found that the staff at Forest Manor had failed to assess the change in the resident's condition, or to notify the resident's family about a change.

The Steeles also weren't properly training their staff, and they were accepting residents whose needs could not be met in the boarding home, according to the state's records.

The stop placement, as the state calls this restrictive condition against a boarding home, was lifted in June 2001.

In March 2002, the state again stopped the Steeles from admitting residents when an inspection revealed an insufficient number of workers, unsafe procedures for preparing and serving food, and insufficient policies for dealing with or reporting suspected abuse or neglect.

They were cited for problems relating to poor housekeeping and repairs that needed to be made to the 1930s building. Again they failed to meet the needs of a resident or notice significant changes in a resident's condition, and they were keeping a resident with bedsores, common among people confined to a bed. Boarding homes are not allowed to keep residents unless they're mobile.

Training was incomplete for caregivers, the 2002 report states. Furthermore, residents were not clean, and were not receiving assistance with personal hygiene.

That stop placement was lifted in April 2002.

From March until June of 2003, while under the management of AAA Residential Services, Forest Manor's license had a condition applied to it for repeated violations related to maintaining appropriate water temperature, doing necessary maintenance and keeping up with the housekeeping, the state records further indicate.

These types of problems have not been common in Lewis County boarding homes in the recent past, said Pat Hildrith, field manager of Residential Care Services at DSHS.

In 2000, Cooks Hill Manor received a low-level fine for allowing a resident's family to make choices for a competent resident, state records show. Guest Only Care Center, in Centralia, had to stop admitting residents from August until September 1998.

These are the only restrictions placed on boarding homes in Lewis County on record at DSHS.

Just what the current situation is at Forest Manor remains unclear. Terry Almasi, the interim administrator of the facility, would not release any information on Forest Manor beyond the number of residents, about 40, and their range of ages, from the mid-20s to the 80s, he said. He said he did not have the number of workers available on hand during an interview Thursday evening.

He didn't want to talk about the situation involving the Steeles and AAA Residential Services.

"Our position is we're not going to comment (on the change in management)," he said. "Our primary effort is to run this facility."

Almasi also said that out of respect for Forest Manor's policies and the privacy of its residents, The Chronicle would not be allowed to interview or photograph residents on the premises unless authorized by the Department of Social and Health Services.

Dian McClurg covers city government for Centralia and Chehalis, and health issues for The Chronicle. She may be reached at 807-8239, or by e-mail at


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