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Courant series provides evidence of the importance of STS

March 8, 2013

If you haven’t read The Hartford Courant’s series this week on abuse and neglect of people with developmental disabilities in Connecticut, we urge you to do so.

It is eye-opening in its detailed depictions of the lack of training and supervision that led to 76 deaths over a seven-year period between 2004 and 2010.

One of the conclusions we hope people will eventually draw from this series is that it makes a strong case — although perhaps not intentionally– for opening the Southbury Training School to new admissions.  We are trying to take this opportunity to let state and federal lawmakers and policymakers know why.

The Courant’s series primarily focused on deaths and other results of abuse and neglect in privately operated group homes and nursing homes around the state.    The paper noted that this community-based system is facing budgetary pressures that have brought it to what the paper describes as a “breaking point.”

We  think STS can play an important role in helping to fix this problem.  It will, however, require a reversal of the state’s current policy of preventing new admissions at STS and persuading guardians there to move the current residents out of the facility.

STS is a critically important state asset.  On its campus are group-home-style residences as well as medical and dental facilities that serve both its own residential population and many people in the community.  Those facilities are staffed by on-site doctors and nurses and by specialists who regularly visit the residents, most of whom have severe and profound levels of intellectual disability and complex medical conditions.

While abuse and neglect can and does occur in all settings of care, the care at STS is provided by well-trained and experienced staff, and complies with high federal standards.  Those factors have long provided peace of mind to the families and guardians of the residents.

Yet because STS has been closed to new admissions for decades, the declining residential population through attrition is pushing the cost per resident there ever upward to a point at which the facility will no longer be financially or politically viable to maintain.  As of February, some 370 residents remained at STS, down from more than 450 in 2011.

In response to a court settlement in 2010, the state has stepped up its efforts to encourage guardians to move residents out of STS and into the community-based group-home system.  However, there is currently a waiting list for residential placements in that system that is conservatively estimated at more than 1,000.  There are not enough group homes for people who need them. 

Anyone who agrees to leave STS will be moved quickly to any open or newly built community-based residence.   But that means that they are moved ahead of many other people developmental disabilities, who may have been waiting for years for a residential placement.

The result is that ever larger numbers of people are being kept at home with inadequate care or are being placed in nursing homes, which state officials acknowledge do not have the staffing expertise to care for them. 

The only solution to the problems outlined by The Courant that appears to be put forth by state officials is to care for even more people at home rather than in facilities such as STS or in group homes or nursing homes.   But that is not a solution for everyone, particularly those who have severe and profound levels of developmental disabilities.

This is why we think STS needs to be opened to new admissions.  Not only would  that  ensure  that  a setting with a record of highly supervised care will remain available to its own residents, but it will help solve the waiting list crisis for people throughout the state.

One of the people we have contacted to make our case lately has been U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, who has called for a national investigation of care of the developmentally disabled in group homes and nursing homes.  Senator Murphy has long voiced the concern that privatizing state services is not a panacea and that it can cause standards of care to slip.

While he was a state senator, Murphy brought about a moratorium on the privatization of group homes in Connecticut.  That moratorium expired in 2009.  We’re not advocating that the moratorium be re-imposed.   

What we are suggesting is that we view STS as part of the solution as we plan for how we will care for some of our most vulnerable residents in coming decades.


From → Uncategorized

  1. I’m posting the following comment on behalf of Linda Gates, a member of the STS Home & School Association. Ms. Gates emailed me in response to an email I had sent to Home & School members, notifying them of this blog post.

    Dear David,

    As usual I read your latest email with great interest and respect for the battle you are waging to keep STC open.  What bothers me is that because we are all so carefully politically correct in our language, it is difficult for people without first hand experience of “profound levels of intellectual disability and complex medical conditions” to comprehend what that really means.

    Here is my first hand experience.   My sister, Heather, was born with a brain tumor.  When she was a few weeks old it was successfully removed.  She was the first infant to survive this type of surgery.  But this is what her success was:  she is blind, has severe scoliosis, severe cerebral palsey, and has been able, with much therapy and TLC, to achieve the mental development of about a 2 1/2 year old.  She cannot walk, feed herself, go to the bathroom, dress herself, roll over in bed, watch tv, read a book, and the list goes on.  When she was 9 years old, my parents, especially my 5’3″ mom, could no longer physically take care of her.

    How many of the people fighting to close STC have been faced with anything like the challenges of caring for a loved one with these problems?

    My sister was one of the lucky ones, she got into Southbury Training School.  Life at home became easier for my parents, but for Heather a new world opened up.  She sings in the choir, goes to camp, is taken on outings with other residents, is part of a community.  Heather is now 56 years old.  Southbury is home.  The attendants are gifts from heaven.

    If she is put into a privately operated group home or nursing home, can we, her family, be gauranteed the same quality of life?  I don’t mean just being told they will do all they can for her.  That sounds way too nebulous.  As for the do-gooders who think she should be given every opportunity to become part of the community, well, that sounds nice, but for those unfortunate to be so profoundly disabled, with complex medical conditions, this just ain’t gonna happen.

    So, I would ask that those so opposed to STC to pay it a visit.  Spend some time in one of the  cottages, a day, an afternoon, not just a walk through or an hour spent with administrators.  See first hand the reality of the residents and the challenges dealt with daily by the well trained and caring staff.  Then ask them if they would make the same recommendations if it was their child, sibling, or other loved one in this situation.

    LInda Gates

  2. Linda, thank you for sharing your story. I have a brother who lives at STS too. He lived home with us for 15 years before moving to Southbury. Due to a particular rare syndrome, medical, physical and profound cognitive issues have increased as he has grown older and I agree with you that the community group homes just don’t have the support (especially medical) that STS provides 24/7. He is happy and enjoys the beautiful campus with many others. He doesn’t get “stared at” for looking and behaving differently like when he is in the community. The staff at his cottage are like family members, many who have worked with him over decades. They have provided active, practical programming and social interactions even though my brother can no longer see, walk, verbalize, hold items functionally in his hands or recognize family.

    I agree. Let the community zealots visit the STS campus. For the aging residents, STS is HOME and the responsibility of taking care of the most disabled Connecticut residents makes much more sense in the safe and beautiful setting of STS. What an innovative idea!

    Visit on Tuesday nights 6:30 – 8:30pm through August 13th and see the integration of community members and STS at a series of wonderful outdoor concerts (or in the Pavilion if inclement weather). Set up a more substantial visit and see the individual home environments, caring staff and wonderful vocational as well as functional educational programs held in the residences and/or the day program setting.


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