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How unlicensed group care homes operate with little oversight: "I think the system failed my brother"

Arlington police talk to city leaders about regulating care homes; investigation continues
Arlington police talk to city leaders about regulating care homes; investigation continues 02:37

ARLINGTON — As Arlington police continue to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect at several unlicensed group care homes in the city, they're talking to city leaders about the possibility of regulating these types of businesses.

Officers arrested Regla "Su" Becquer last month for endangering one of her clients and believe more charges could be filed against her.

Court documents paint a gruesome picture of what was allegedly going on at five unlicensed bed and board homes in Tarrant County operated by Becquer, from a disabled woman police found lying in her own filth to a resident claiming he was being poisoned.

"It's disturbing that people like this can get away with it for so long," said Chris Devendorf, whose brother, Steven Kelly Pankratz, was referred to one of Becquer's homes after a hospital stay for sepsis. "I don't understand."

Devendorf quickly became suspicious of the way Pankratz was being treated but wasn't able to pull him out of the board home.

Investigators say Pankratz is one of at least 13 people who died in homes operated by Becquer since Sept. 2022.

"I think the system failed my brother," Devendorf said. "I think the system failed a lot of people."

Devendorf was shocked to find out these board homes don't have to register with the state or meet any licensing requirements, as long as they have less than four residents.

"These are people who are preying upon some of the most vulnerable people in our society," said Dennis Borel, the executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities.

Borel says these unlicensed board homes are a problem across the state and often the only option for low-income people dealing with disabilities or illness, especially when it can take years to get into one of the state's licensed homes.

"We're not a poor state, and yet we've failed to provide a social safety net," Borel said. "That is a choice. Make no mistake about it. We can do better."

Borel says bad actors need to be put out of business.

"Cities can actually use their city ordinance-making authority to regulate these board homes, so that is one option," said Borel. "But on the state level, there's nothing."

State lawmakers did pass a few bills last session to address some of the concerns. Landlords and employees are now required to report abuse or neglect in these settings, and hospitals aren't supposed to discharge patients to unlicensed boarding homes unless the patient requests it.

Borel says that's just not enough.

"Really what needs to be done, is there should never be a type of unlicensed, unregulated type of residence like that," he said. "Let's get rid of them. But let's replace them with regulated, decent places to live."

Devendorf wants to see systemic change too.

"My brother would be proud if… the loss of his life, as tragic as it is, if he saved others, [the] rescue of other people and getting them the care they deserve," Devendorf said. "And just bringing to light that these houses are out there, other people are taking advantage of people, and to have stricter guidelines."

Arlington police say they need the public's help to make sure they're not missing any additional homes operated by Becquer or if there are similar board houses where people are being victimized. The department has set up a special tip line at 817-575-3230.

Texas Adult Protective Services is also investigating the group homes run by Becquer.

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