For the residents of Hillandale, punishment was swift and painful: violent takedowns, powerful tranquilizers that made them stumble and drool, and staffers who would scream and tackle them when they misbehaved.

The worst was the closet — a cramped room at the end of a hallway where the residents who were deemed unruly were locked, sometimes for hours.

“It’s like you’re in jail,” said Karen Westfall, who lived at Hillandale for five years.

And like a jail, the Pasco County assisted-living facility sometimes prevented residents from leaving, records show.

Last April, the staff protested the removal of a 47-year-old man — frail and mentally retarded — who said he wanted to move, while residents shouted and blocked the path of state workers trying to safely escort him from the home.

In the end, regulators were forced to bring in sheriff’s deputies to clear a path and break up the crowd gathered behind the gates of the facility.

The dramatic rescue highlights the problems that have turned a special subset of assisted-living facilities into Florida’s most dangerous.

While most ALFs are designed to care for the elderly — providing help with everyday tasks — Florida licenses facilities like Hillandale to also care for people with severe mental illness.  read more

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