York Co. death raises questions about regulation of ‘Sober Homes’

Jane’s story
Jane Tetesco had the promise of a bright future. “She was a great kid,” said her father Tom Tetesco. “She was busy, she played basketball. I coached two of her teams which were championship teams. She had a really good time.”

In the last few years Tetesco said his daughter changed. Jane got into drugs, which eventually led to her addiction to Heroin. “I watched her fall asleep in her soup. She would be sitting there and just get the nods. You would take her out to lunch at the diner, it’s embarrassing to say, it’s a terrible thing to experience, to see it. Never mind my daughter, to see anybody like that. They can’t stay awake. It’s terrible. They steal, they rob, they will do anything to get high because they don’t want to be dope sick. I’ve seen it. All they do is throw up. They are in a lot of pain they’re whole body hurts,” said Tetesco.

Jane tried to get clean. “She went to rehab three times,” said Tetesco. The last time he thought she was finally going to make it. “One of her friends had left her one day on the front porch. They knocked on the door and ran. Jane wasn’t breathing; she almost died. Her mother got on the phone and she was saved. So that scared Jane. After that, they left her in jail, and she got rid of the dope sick. So she wasn’t sick anymore and she said OK, I’m ready to do this,” said Tetesco.

After her third time in rehab Jane moved from her home in Easton, Pennsylvania to a regulated recovery residence in York. “She came to my house at Christmas. When she left she said, dad I’m done with this. She couldn’t wait to get back and get a job, her own place and get her two kids. She was doing this,” said Tetesco.

But shortly after Jane returned back to York she met someone who convinced her to a Sober Living Home. “It’s cheaper there, there’s less rules there they told her,” said Tetesco. “I begged her not to go. I said you’re in a good place don’t go. I said if you go there you’re going to die. And sure enough she did that night. She wasn’t even there 24 hours.”

at 23, Jane died in a home touted as a Sober Living Home.

“Her death was caused by a Heroin overdose,” confirmed York County Chief Deputy Coroner Claude Stabley. “It happened on January 2, 2014. This was a house that the people that lived there termed a ‘Sober House’ So it’s not really a licensed healthcare facility. It’s a house where they would go and make promises to rent the room there. And that was the rules that they had to follow to stay there.”

“It was a mattress on the floor and a dresser,” said Tetesco shaking his head of his daughter’s final moments.

After Jane’s death York County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Dave Sunday started looking into this sober home and others. “I`m still learning all of the nuances of this situation,” said Sunday. He discovered that it’s hard to get an accurate count as to how many exist. Some are not regulated by any parent organization. Many avoid local zoning laws, so often officials don’t even know that they are this type of home. “They are zoned as a single family dwelling. That’s why it’s so difficult to track what occurs in these places. They are just essentially a home where an individual said I am not going to turn this into a sober living home,” said Sunday.

“A lot of them are doing this for a good cause. A lot of them are fantastic individuals who have goals in mind that are fantastic and they want to help people who want to recover from the addictions that they have. The problem however, that’s not always the case,” said Sunday, who said that is not always the case. “There are a lot of people out there who take advantage of individuals and their addictions. There are people out there who not only don’t get any treatment, but the sober living homes in a lot of instances are in the same neighborhood or right down the street from known drug vending operations. So we have people who are put in a home that maybe just got out of prison, or maybe just got out of an inpatient treatment center, and they’re placed in a home without any regulation, without any supervision, and that home happens to be right beside drug dealers,” said Sunday.

Why not?
FOX43 investigated why sober living homes are not regulated. We found that while some of the owners of these homes choose to join parent organizations, which provide oversight, this is not a requirement.

“The issue we are seeing with sober living homes are, they are unregulated. Essentially what can happen is anyone can start a house, or a sober living home. They just take their house and say this is now going to be a sober living home, and they will invite addicts to come live in the home,” said Sunday. And the problem goes beyond York County, it is statewide.

The PA Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs does not provide oversight because healthcare is not provided in the home.

“The Americans with disabilities act and the Fair Housing standards act. Those laws pre-empt local law and state law. So because of the classification of people that they are in recovery, and they are a family unit, so while living together in recovery they actually avoid a lot of the code and zooming laws that are at the local level,” said Representative Frank Farry, 142nd District Bucks County.

“If they aren’t being run properly they are dangerous for recovering addicts and for the community,” said Rep. Farry, who has created legislation to help. “Something that was brought to light by one of the inpatient facilities in the sense that they’re spending time helping them get clean and the last thing they want to do is put them out in a sober living home or a recovery house, and they’re in an environment that is not clean or safe for them, and they relapse.”

As a volunteer firefighter for more than three decades Rep. Farry said he also sees dangers with these homes not having to follow local zoning and code laws. “It would be a horrible thing if one of these houses caught fire and you know you have multiple deaths because the house wasn’t kept up to code, and there weren’t working smoke detectors,” said Rep. Farry.

Legislation
Rep Farry’s proposed legislation [House Bill 1298] that would utilize a task force to create a policy and criteria for certifying recovery and sober living residences. The regulations would be a requirement for any home receiving any state or federal funding. Although the proposed law is not a fix-all, Rep. Farry believes it will help. “I’m sure all of the reputable recovery homes will follow the criteria and meet the state standards. Those that are fly by night, obviously there is not much we can do about it, because of the federal law. However, whenever someone is coming out of an inpatient facility, the hope is, that organization is referring them to the cleaner, better homes. The ones that meet the standards,” said Rep. Farry.

House Bill 1298 passed the House and is now in the Senate awaiting a vote.

Experience
“There are residences that are doing extremely well, running a tremendous recovery program in their house. Then you have houses that are overcrowded with 40 people in the house, letting them do drugs in the house. Those houses need to either be enhanced or closed,” said Fred Way, who is the Founder of Philadelphia Association of Recovery Residences. He has started a grassroots of sorts effort. His association is a parent organization that regulates and  provides standards for recovery and sober residences that chose to. “I make sure that house is safe, that house is clean, and they are treating residents with respect. They are getting the optimal recovery support services in that house. That is why I certify a house. I am then accountable for that house.”

Way said a properly run home is the key to success. “You want a house that your staff is trained yearly. They are able to see those individuals who may come back in from being out on pass and they can recognize those signs. You get individuals helping you find jobs, helping you go back to school, helping you with transportation. There’s an array of services that come from a house that cares about you, rather than one that’s just trying to take your money,” said Way. “As long as you can stay in a recovery house that is operating correctly that increases chances that your recovery will be maintained once you leave.”

Way is part of a newly formed task force organized by the PA Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. Members of the task force will be working to get more funding and regulations for these homes.

“It’s going to look at what a recovery residence should be, and then it’s going to explore what is actually occurring at different places, and it’s going to look at what our department can do,” said Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs, Gary Tennis. “If we’re going to fund it, if taxpayers are helping, then we have to make sure they are going to get what they paid for. That means it’s a safe environment, it really is recovery supportive, and the people in the program are really getting the level of treatment they need to be getting.”