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Trading peace of mind for uncertainty

June 20, 2012

By David Kassel

Guardians and family members have had peace of mind over the years regarding the safety and care of their loved ones at the Southbury Training School, and data from the state Office of Protection and Advocacy appear to bear this out.

We compared data provided by the OPA on abuse and neglect incidents at STS and in group homes in Connecticut from 2002 to 2012.  The OPA’s Abuse Investigation Division monitors investigations by the Department of Developmental Services of allegations of abuse and neglect of DDS clients between the ages of 18 and 60.

According to the OPA, there were a total of 158 alleged incidents of abuse and neglect at STS in the 10-year period.  Based on a current population at STS of 450, that is a rate of 0.35 incidents per resident.  In the group home system, in contrast, we calculated a rate of abuse and neglect incidents per resident at 1.04.*   The apparent rate of abuse and neglect was nearly three times higher per resident  in the group home system than at STS over the past 10 years.

Ironically, James McGaughey, the OPA’s executive director, is a fervent supporter of closing STS and recently argued in The Hartford Courant that the state has “a moral imperative”  to move STS residents into community-based group homes because STS is too institutional.  STS guardians, McGaughey wrote, want their wards to stay at STS only because they are “invested in placement decisions they (or their now-deceased parents) made years ago…”   He declined to give those guardians credit for recognizing that STS provides excellent care and keeps their loved ones safe.

In fact, one has only to read any of several recent Courant articles concerning safety and other substandard care issues in the DDS community-based system to understand the concern STS guardians have about ongoing pressure to move their loved ones out of STS.  While those guardians would love to further McGaughey’s aim of making communities “richer and stronger” by having intellectually disabled persons live there, they have to first be assured that their loved ones will equal or better care in community-based group homes and will be as safe as they were at STS.

  • The Courant reported on May 9 that DDS was questioning in an audit why the executive director of Humanidad, a Hartford-based, state-funded group home operator, had hired his son to undertake internal investigations of abuse and neglect complaints against staff despite the son’s arrest on a variety of domestic violence charges in 2008.
  • On May 18, the Courant reported that a series of internal memos alleged problems at Humanidad group homes, ranging from staff insubordination to neglectful care.  The memos noted that various staff members skipped work without notifying the agency, went shopping and attended to personal errands during their shift, refused on one occasion to accompany a client to the emergency room, and periodically missed giving clients their medications at the scheduled times.
  • On June 15, The Courant reported that a group of Humanidad employees had sent an unsigned letter to DDS and to the company’s executive director, alleging that staffing shortages were making the residences unsafe, that there weren’t enough resources to support community activities or buy groceries, and that “many employees have reported some of these incidents and nothing has been done.”   The provider, meanwhile, was operating about $61,000 in the red, according to the newspaper.

The Courant has also recently reported on deaths of DDS clients living in nursing homes.  The paper reported on June 13 that as of the end of April there have been three fatal chokings at Connecticut nursing homes in three months and that two of those who died had been developmentally disabled.

In the latest case, an intellectually disabled patient on a soft-food diet at the Meridian Manor nursing home in Waterbury died after choking on take-out meatballs and ziti delivered directly to the patient’s room while nursing staff was not present.  On March 6, an 82-year-old intellectually disabled resident of the Aurora Senior Living Center in Cromwell died after choking on marshmallows.

Both the group home and nursing home cases recounted in The Courant are of concern to STS guardians.   While most residents leaving STS would be transferred to group homes, many STS guardians are concerned that those group homes will be increasingly unable to care for their wards as they advance in age, and that nursing homes will become the only alternative for them.

Nursing homes, however,  are not generally equipped to provide the specialized care needed by people with intellectual disabilities.  And to the extent that a nursing home, like a group home, is not financially viable, the long-term outlook for a former STS resident who ends up in such a facility is likely to be one of continual uncertainty.

The Courant reported on June 13 that the Wethersfield Health Care Center, a nursing home, was closing because the company that runs it was experiencing financial losses.  The result is that the 66 remaining residents there will have to find other homes.  The company, HealthBridge, has threatened to close all six of the nursing homes it runs in Connecticut due to a dispute over health care benefits of employees with the Service Employees International Union District 1199, according to The Courant.

Ann Marie Mangiagli, the mother of a resident at the Wethersfield nursing home, told The Courant that the closure had made her feel powerless.  “We’re moved around like chess people, like we have no say at all,” she said.

That’s exactly the way guardians and family members at STS are starting to feel, after years of peace of mind.


*The group home abuse rate is based on 3,554 reported incidents over the 10-year period, according to OPA data, and a current group home population of 3,402, according to figures from the Legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee.


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