News 4 Investigates: Some retirement homes exempt from county in - KMOV.com

News 4 Investigates: Some retirement homes exempt from county inspections

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Pamela Hupp's mother died at a retirement home by falling off the balcony. (Credit: KMOV) Pamela Hupp's mother died at a retirement home by falling off the balcony. (Credit: KMOV)
ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO -

A News 4 investigation is revealing a legal loophole that could be putting your or your loved ones in danger.

Retirement homes may be falling through the cracks on building code inspections. After bringing the loophole to the attention of council members, there could now be a change in the law.  

Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager uncovered this issue as she dug into the death of Pamela Hupp's mom at a retirement home in 2013. Hupp is charged with murder in an unrelated case in St. Charles County.

The broken bars on the balcony are the big question in a death investigation at the Lakeview Park independent senior living facility in 2013. Shirley Neumann, 77, fell three flights to her death.

Though some people, like former prosecutor Hal Goldsmith, have wondered if there was foul play, police have ruled it an accident.

But if there's any doubt about the railings themselves, News 4 wanted to know if they are safe for the other residents living there, so we tried to pull inspection reports.

No one in state or county government has ever inspected the balconies on the property, not in the years before Neumann’s death or after.

“We don't go into private residences at all, apartment buildings, and things of that nature,” said Fenton Fire Protection District Deputy Chief, Lou Hecht.

Hecht says they only inspect a facility's exteriors and common areas for fire hazards.

St. Louis County initially said the state inspected Lakeview, but the state only regulates assisted living and skilled-care nursing homes.

It turns out, there could be a legal loophole in St. Louis County’s laws when it comes to independent senior living facilities.

County Executive Steve Stenger's office declined to talk to Trager on-camera, so she went to Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger.

“Is there a chance it's time to revisit how we do this?” asked Trager. “I think so, yes, potentially,” Wasinger said. 

Wasinger says every time a person moves out of a home or an apartment building in unincorporated parts of the county, building inspectors do a re-occupancy check to make sure the unit is safe for the next person.

But in the county, they don't consider retirement homes apartments, allowing retirement homes to skip re-occupancy inspections all together.

“If it truly is an apartment type setting, I think the issue needs to be revisited and looked into,” Wasinger said.

Wasinger says she's doing more research. But for the time being: if you want to know if a retirement home is safe, do your homework before you or a loved one move in.

"Make sure you ask these questions, because I think some people have the assumption that they are inspected and re-inspected and that may or may not be true," Wasinger said. 

The City of St. Louis does inspect retirement homes. But St. Charles County doesn't, because they don't do any re-occupancy inspections at all.

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