Economy InnThe notorious Economy Inn on Bardstown Road avoided having its operating permit revoked on Monday, as the Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness gave the motel a perfect score of 100 percent on its follow-up inspection.

According to health department records obtained by Insider Louisville, that means the Economy Inn — infamous for drugs, crime and prostitution — received a slightly higher score than prestigious venues such as The Brown Hotel, The Seelbach Hotel, and 21c Museum Hotel from inspections since the beginning of 2014.

But does that mean the Economy Inn is cleaner and safer? No it does not — not by any stretch of the imagination.

Dave Langdon, the spokesman for the health department, tells Insider Louisville that just as diners sometimes receive a higher inspection score than fancy restaurants on any given day, the same is true with hotels.

“It’s a snapshot of a particular date and time when the inspectors are in the facility, how they scored on a checklist of items,” says Langdon. “And they look at a sampling of rooms in the hotel, they don’t go through every single room.”

This is even more true when you factor in the process of follow-up inspections for businesses like the Economy Inn that received a failing grade in their initial annual inspection. When the health department does a follow-up the next month, they do not choose another random sampling of rooms to inspect, but the exact same rooms. Not only that, but the hotels also know what days the inspectors are coming, so all of their focus can be on those troubled areas, not their entire facility.

Langdon says that is similar to the inspection process for restaurants that have had violations, and the processes of following up with the same rooms “is just the standard operating procedure that’s kind of laid out in state guidelines and regulations.”

However, while shutting down a dirty restaurant is relatively easy, Langdon says doing the same for a hotel is much more difficult — adding that the Economy Inn’s threat of a forced closure after months of failed inspections is an uncommon occurrence.

“We will close down a restaurant if they have sewage backing up; we have the authority to shut that place down on the spot,” says Langdon. “They can open up back up when they correct that. But it’s much harder to shut down a hotel.”

The inspection scores of the health department since the beginning of 2014 bear that out. The Economy Inn is far from the only hotel to receive a failing grade and receive multiple opportunities over the following months to lift their score back to a passing grade.

The nearby Midtown Inn & Suites on Bardstown Road received a failing grade of 60 percent in December, and has gradually lifted its score over three more follow-up inspections to 84 percent. The Country Inn & Suites on Kentucky Mills Drive and the Baymont Inn & Suites on Signature Drive both received low scores late last year, but after three follow-ups each, they both have scores of 100 percent like the Economy Inn.

Perhaps no other hotel over the last two years shows the relative meaninglessness of follow-up inspection scores than the Fern Valley Hotel & Conference Center. In March of last year, the hotel received a score of 64 percent in its annual inspection, which it managed to lift to a passing score after two subsequent inspections in the following months. After receiving another regular inspection — unannounced, and of random rooms — last September, its score plummeted again to 66 percent. After two follow-ups inspecting the same rooms, the hotel was back up to 90 percent. Last month, the hotel received another random annual inspection and received its lowest score yet of 56 percent. The Fern Valley Hotel received two follow-up visits earlier this month, but has yet to lift its score above 68 percent.

Protesters of Economy Inn called out the motel's ties to human trafficking Monday morning
Protesters of Economy Inn called out the motel’s ties to human trafficking Monday morning

Langdon says he is not aware of any set limit of failed follow-up inspections before a hotel is threatened with having its operating permit suspended like the Economy Inn, as “it’s kind of a judgement call. It really depends on the severity of the violations and perhaps the history of the facility.”

Langdon adds that these inspection scores are “really designed to ensure that those facilities are healthy and safe. It’s not really designed to correct public nuisance and crime-related things.”

Until such an inspection score factors in the prevalence of crime, drug sales, prostitution and human trafficking at a hotel, the Economy Inn’s owners can take pride in scoring higher than the historic Brown and Seelbach. That is, until their next unannounced inspection of random rooms.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]