Owner of Missouri Group Home Where 11 Died in Fire Appeals Revocation of Licenses

The owners of a group home where a fire killed 11 people last year have appealed the state revocation of their licenses to run four southwest Missouri facilities for the mentally ill and disabled.

The state health department had given Joplin River of Life Ministries Inc. until Friday to shut down its group homes and relocate the residents.

But the organization appealed to the state's Administrative Hearing Commission in hopes of regaining its residential care licenses so the homes would be more valuable to sell, said LaVerne DuPont, who is listed on state licensure documents as the operator's executive director.

Nine residents and one employee were killed in the Nov. 27 blaze that destroyed the Anderson Guest House, and another resident died of his burns a few weeks later.

State regulators subsequently stripped the organization's operating permits, arguing that the business was illegally run by Robert DuPont, who had been barred from operating long-term care facilities and participating in the Medicaid program because of a 2003 federal sentence in a Medicare and Medicaid fraud scheme.

The appeal, filed by LaVerne Dupont, disputes that he was extensively involved in the homes' operation. A handwritten note on her appeal documents states that her husband provided "input, but not decisions."

The four facilities — two in Joplin, one in Carl Junction and the one that burned in Anderson — are owned jointly by Robert and LaVerne DuPont.

A health department spokesman said Thursday that the agency had no comment on the DuPonts' appeal.

The Administrative Hearing Commission scheduled four separate hearings from June 12-15 to decide whether regulators were justified in stripping the licenses.

LaVerne DuPont said the forced closure was unnecessary. She said the state should have instead allowed time for the DuPonts to sell the homes while the residents continued to live there.

"We're willing to get out of the business," she said.