Police jury delays decision on fate of Bruce’s new group home in Vidalia operating without proper licensing

Published 12:52 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

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VIDALIA, La. — The Concordia Parish Police Jury on Monday delayed voting on whether to give an occupational license to a new group home, which is operating without proper approval from the parish.

The delay came after jury members said they did not receive necessary documents in a timely manner and after a Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy objected to the licensing.

Dr. Tina Bruce is the owner of Sunshine Therapeutic Group Home. She owns and operates Bruce Professional Counseling Services in Natchez and Vidalia and also opened a youth crisis stabilization center in Natchez that has drawn concern from neighbors and city officials regarding licensing and zoning.

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Sunshine Therapeutic Group Home opened around December 2022 at 4907 Highway 84 West, in Vidalia, without an occupational license approved by the police jury, which Bruce said was an oversight on her part.

However, all other licenses and inspections were done and approved by the state, she said.

“I followed all of the necessary precautions to get this group home started. The only thing I forgot to do was get the occupational license,” Bruce said to the police jury during its Monday meeting.

According to the Louisiana Department of Health, therapeutic group homes are LDH-licensed facilities that provide “community-based residential services in a home-like setting of no greater than 10 beds under the supervision and oversight of a psychiatrist or psychologist.” They provide “a structured living environment 24 hours per day, seven days per week to clients under the age of 21 who are determined to need psychiatric or psychological services,” LDH states.

Cathy Darden, former Interim Secretary and Treasurer, said Bruce submitted copies of her state certificates for the jury’s review prior to a public hearing about the business license on Monday.

A parish ordinance says there has to be a public hearing before issuing an occupational license for any multi-housing facility, Darden said.

“We have everything except for the inspections,” Darden said. “We would need those.”

Bruce supplied the inspections to the police jury during the meeting.

Police Juror Joseph Parker said the jury’s licensing committee and the board attorney would have to look over them before the police jury can vote on the occupational license.

“You say that you have everything, but we have to make sure that what you’re giving us is in order. … In the process of (the licensing committee’s) review, we have to get our attorney to look over it with us. We want to make sure we’re right whether we issue your license or don’t issue your license,” Parker said. “If you’re looking for us to make a decision right now, it’s not going to happen.”

Bruce objected to the delay.

“This certificate is valid with the state. What more representation do you need? You can’t get to the next step unless you have this,” she said. “I have 10 kids. All of these kids are in state custody. They go to the schools here. I have to make sure I follow strict guidelines with the state because they’re not going to place me with any kids unless I have completed all of those guidelines.”

In the final seconds of the public hearing, Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Thomas Gaude was the only one to oppose the occupational license for the group home.

“We’ve had several issues with Sunshine Group Home,” Gaude said. “Since December 21, we’ve had roughly 14 calls for service. Multiple runaways, multiple assaults and batteries and even allegations that sexual abuse within the facility occurred between residents. At this time, we would object to the issuance of a business license for this establishment. It’s currently under investigation by our department and other state agencies.”

However, Bruce denied anything wrong was happening at the business.

“You came in and took my cameras and you didn’t find anything,” she said. “My office is under surveillance 24-7, so nothing is going on that shouldn’t be going on.”

Gaude interjected, “These are allegations that came up later after the cameras were taken.”

Parker said the police jury would review the sheriff’s office reports and the inspections Bruce had just given them and would make a determination of whether or not an occupational license would be issued for the group home at its next meeting.

The City of Natchez is currently in negotiations with Bruce’s legal representatives at Sanders’ Law Firm concerning a mental health inpatient treatment center for adolescents at the former Natchez Children’s Home, which opened in early January without a proper business license from the city, officials said. In July 2022, privilege license No. S01064 was issued to Bruce Professional Services for a “daycare service” at the 806 N. Union St. property, which is not the correct license type.

Bruce said the 28-bed center provides inpatient treatment for children and adolescents from ages 6 to 18 who are in the custody of Child Protective Services.

After Bruce received a cease-and-desist letter from the City, Natchez City Attorney Bryan Callaway said the facility was allowed to remain open while negotiations are underway.

“Hopefully, we will come to a resolution soon that will give everyone a fair chance and still look out for the best interest of the children,” he said.

Bruce did not respond to phone and email messages to further comment on this story.