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Private DDS providers left to investigate 41% of abuse cases

October 23, 2012

By David Kassel

More than 41 percent of the complaints lodged over the past decade of abuse and neglect of intellectually disabled people in Connecticut were investigated  by state-funded, nonprofit provider organizations and not by state agencies, according to data provided by the Department of Developmental Services.

The data, provided under a Freedom of Information Act request, show that nonprofit providers, which primarily operate community-based group homes, were the sole investigative agencies in 2,750 out of a total of 6,654 abuse and neglect cases in the state between 2002 and 2012. 

As the table below shows, provider agencies were involved in a total of 4,677 investigations between 2002 and 2012, or 70.3 of the total investigations conducted.  In contrast, DDS was involved in just 24.9 percent of the total investigations, and the independent state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (OPA) was involved in directly investigating only 7.7 percent of those investigations. 

The OPA appears to primarily monitor investigations by other agencies.  According to the DDS data, OPA monitored a total of 2,048 investigations, or 30.8 percent of the total number.

The situation is of concern to guardians of residents at the Southbury Training School (STS), who are under increasing pressure from DDS to move their family members into community-based group homes. 

If a case of abuse or neglect occurs at STS or in other state-run DDS facilities, it is investigated by either DDS or the OPA.  However, an online DDS policies and procedures manual states that investigations of complaints involving providers and their staffs are “usually” conducted by those same providers.  This, in our view, is a fox-guarding-the-henhouse approach to oversight of oversight of abuse and neglect in the DDS system.

A 2008 interagency agreement between DDS and OPA states that DDS must establish “minimum standards” to ensure that providers have staff that are qualified to carry out abuse and neglect investigations, and that both DDS and OPA will conduct independent reviews of investigative reports done by the providers.  We would question, however, just how thorough such reviews tend to be.

The DDS manual states that a provider investigator must not be a supervisor in a program that he or she is investigating and cannot have a personal relationship with employees in that program.  But while these restrictions indicate that DDS recognizes the potential for conflicts of interest in these situations, they don’t eliminate the basic conflict in allowing a provider to investigate itself.

The DDS records show that several public agencies are authorized to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect of intellectually disabled persons, including DDS, OPA, the Department of Social Services (DSS), the Department of Public Heath (DPH), the Department of Children and Families (DCF), and state and local police departments.

In many cases, more than one of these agencies were involved in investigating individual allegations over the past 11 years, often in addition to the private provider agencies.  However, as the table below shows, the providers may have played the most prominent role in the investigations, having investigated almost as many allegations during the period as all the public agencies combined. 

DDS Data on Abuse and Neglect Cases in Connecticut Investigated Between 2002 and 2012

Investigating Authority

No. of Cases Investigated* Percentage of Total Cases Investigated
Nonprofit Providers

4,677

70.29%

Dept. of Developmental Services (DDS)

1,655

24.87%

DDS Case Monitoring

91

1.37%

Office of Protection & Advocacy (OPA)

515

7.74%

OPA Case Monitoring

2,048

30.78%

Dept. of Social Services

265

3.98%

Dept. of Public Health

55

0.83%

Dept. of Children and Families

26

0.39%

Local Police Force

76

1.14%

State Police Force

12

0.18%

Local Education Agency

4

0.06%

*More than one agency often investigated individual complaints, so the total number of cases listed in this column exceeds the total number of cases investigated.

I checked with Emil DeRiggi, deputy executive director of the Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC), to see how that neighboring state handles abuse and neglect investigations, and whether providers in Massachusetts are allowed to investigate these cases.  The DPPC is an independent state agency that is charged with investigating abuse and neglect of the disabled, and is the Massachusetts counterpart to the OPA in Connecticut.

In an email, DeRiggi had this to say:

When an allegation involving an alleged victim with an intellectual disability meets the jurisdictional criteria to be investigated under DPPC’s authority, only DPPC or DDS (the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services) will investigate.  DPPC never accepts an evaluation/investigation conducted by a provider agency/vendor as a substitute. 

The potential for abuse and neglect of an intellectually disabled person while in the care of any state-funded facility is a matter of serious concern to any guardian or family member of that person.   A high likelihood that these cases will be investigated as thoroughly and impartially as possible is the best deterrent to would-be abusers.

There are many troubling aspects to the statistics on abuse and neglect investigations that have been provided by the Connecticut DDS.  It is troubling, for instance, that DDS itself directly conducted more investigations (1,655) than did the OPA, which is an independent agency and should therefore be conducting most, if not all, of these investigations, in our view.

In Massachusetts as well, the DPPC refers most of the complaints it receives of abuse and neglect to that state’s DDS to investigate.  The departments of Developmental Services in both states directly manage or contract for care of the intellectually disabled, and therefore face a conflict whenever they investigate abuse and neglect complaints in their own facilities.  But, in our view, Connecticut’s practice of designating providers as the sole investigators of 41 percent of the state’s total complaints presents an even bigger conflict.

Provider agencies tend to be small and to rely heavily, if not entirely, on DDS funding for their survival.  We question their incentive to let DDS know about the most serious problems of abuse or neglect in their operations that could potentially jeopardize that funding.

Tamie Hopp of the national VOR, which advocates for adequate care around the country for the intellectually disabled, maintains that states generally lack the resources needed to adequately monitor community-based group homes in order to prevent and investigate abuse and neglect.  This lack of resources is the reason there have been so many examples in recent years of abuse and neglect and inadequate care in these facilities.  It also appears to be the reason Connecticut has chosen to allow the providers to monitor themselves.

It is yet another reason most STS guardians and family members want their loved ones to stay where they are.

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2 Comments
  1. George Mavridis permalink

    Well done David. This article is another example of your excellent journalism and investigations.

    The pressure from the Malloy administration is similiar to the pressure of our former Massachusetts governor. I ask, “Why do I have the right to live in a gated retirement community that meets all the Social Security Act Title XIX requirements for an intermediate care facility for my intellectually disabled friends and they are being pressured to give up the ICF residential option?”

    Mav

  2. James McGaughey, executive director of the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons With Disabilities, said one theme runs through the reports of abuse and neglect: Many of the deaths could have been prevented.

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