New group home in Vidalia receives occupational license approval

Published 12:40 pm Tuesday, March 14, 2023

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VIDALIA, La. — A new group home located on Carter Street in Vidalia received approval from the Concordia Parish Police Jury for an occupational license during a special called meeting last week despite complaints to the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office about the facility.

The group home houses children in state custody who are enrolled in Concordia Parish schools. 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.

Police Jury President Collin Edwards said according to parish ordinances, occupational licenses are issued “for tax purposes only,” and the jury was concerned about what might happen if approval of the application is withheld.

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Sunshine Therapeutic Group Home is owned by Dr. Tina Bruce, who also owns Bruce Professional Counseling Services in Natchez and Vidalia and recently opened a youth crisis stabilization center in Natchez that has drawn concern from neighbors and city officials regarding licensing and zoning.

Bruce came to a public hearing concerning the new group home’s occupational license held on Feb. 27 with her attorney by her side and objected to the police jury’s delay.

“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. “… 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.”

Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Thomas Gaude was the only one to oppose the occupational license for the group home at the public hearing.

“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.”

Police Jury secretary and treasurer Ariella Carter said notice of a special called meeting held Tuesday, March 7, when the occupational license had been issued, was posted on the bulletin board at the Concordia Parish Courthouse “where all notices are posted” before the 24-hours advance notice required by Open Meetings Act. However, it was not advertised on the parish’s website or in the Concordia Sentinel newspaper where the parish typically issues notice of its public meetings.

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.