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The fight goes on to save the Glavin Center

March 30, 2011 6 comments

At a breakfast on Tuesday at the Glavin Regional Center in Shrewsbury, state lawmakers heard from family members and guardians trying to save this critically important facility from closure.

And the families heard from the lawmakers, who said they will have a tough battle on their hands to get their message heard among the well-organized forces on Beacon Hill calling for the shutdown of all remaining developmental centers in the state for persons with intellectual disabilities.

Meanwhile, lawmakers will file an amendment to the state budget bill coming up for debate in the House, requiring an independent cost analysis before Glavin and two other centers can be closed.

State Senator Michael Moore of Milbury made the comment during the Glavin breakfast, saying the amendment will specify that the study be done by the state auditor, inspector general, or another independent entity selected by a competitive bidding process.

COFAR has criticized a cost analysis submitted to the Legislature last summer by the Patrick administration, which claims that closing the Glavin, Monson, and Templeton developmental centers will save the state $20 million a year.  No analysis was submitted at all for the Fernald Developmental Center, which is the first on the administration’s closure list.

Because we believe there are numerous flaws in the administration’s cost analysis, we at COFAR have urged that an independent study be submitted to the Legislature. 

Rep. Anne Gobi (left), Rep. Vincent Pedone (center), and Senator Michael Moore (right) at Glavin breakfast. Moore said lawmakers will file a budget amendment calling for an independent analysis of the costs of closing three developmental centers.

At Tuesday’s breakfast, Al Bacotti, a former director of the Glavin Center, made the case to the lawmakers that Glavin is both cost-effective to operate and functions as a “safety net” for a group of severely intellectually disabled people who have been unable to live successfully in community-based settings.

Bacotti maintained that he saw a number of instances in which costs tripled for Glavin residents needing intensive care, after they were transferred to community residences.  Those residents no longer had the benefit of centralized clinical, therapeutic, and medical services, which had been available at Glavin, he said.

Bacotti also disputed the argument made by facility closure advocates that Glavin and the other developmental centers are segregated from the surrounding community and restrict residents’ freedom.

Former Glavin Director Al Bacotti (standing) speaks at breakfast. Seated to his left is Roland Charpentier, president of Friends of Glavin. Bacotti termed Glavin "cost effective" and a "safety net."

“There are actually more freedoms here (at Glavin) than for many people in community settings,” Bacotti said.  “To the argument that everyone should be in the community, my answer is it didn’t work for the people here.”

Rep. Vincent Pedone of Worcester replied at that point that he needs more data on those cost issues because “people (on Beacon Hill) are telling us the opposite is true.”  COFAR delivered a set of facts and figures on developmental center and community costs directly to Rep. Pedone today (Wednesday).

During the Tuesday breakfast meeting, Wilfred Dumont told the lawmakers about his son, Stephen, 26, who has been a Glavin resident for the past four years.  Stephen is intellectually disabled and is deaf and has cerebral palsy and other medical conditions.  Prior to coming to Glavin,  he lived in a community-based facility where he began banging his head so severely that even a helmet didn’t help.

“He opened up his head at least 30 times,” Dumont said.  That behavior has ceased since he’s been at Glavin.  “Now he’s smiling for the first time and he comes home on weekends,” Dumont added.  He said Stephen still has some behavioral episodes, but they no longer go on for a month at at a time. “To move him to another facility won’t work.  You might as well put him in a cage,” he said.

Stephen Dumont (center) with his mother, Rose, and father, Wilfred. The staff at Glavin got Stephen to stop banging his head and injuring himself.

We will tell more about Stephen’s case and about other Glavin family members’ stories in our upcoming, May issue of The COFAR Voice.

Other lawmakers attending Tuesday’s legislative breakfast included Reps. Anne Gobi of Spencer, Kimberly Ferguson of Holden, Paul Frost of Auburn, and Matthew Beaton of Shrewsbury.

Update: some progress to report in abuse case

March 25, 2011 4 comments

There have been some new developments in a case we reported on here, involving the alleged assault of an intellectually disabled man by a group home staff worker.

A state investigator has recommended that John Saunders, who has been charged with assaulting John Burns during an outing from his West Springfield-based group home last June, no longer be allowed to work with Department of Developmental Services clients.  Saunders was fired after the alleged assault from the group home, which is run by the Center for Human Development.

Saunders allegedly hit Burns in the face while toileting him, causing Burns to suffer two black eyes.   Saunders is scheduled to appear in Falmouth District Court on Monday, March 28, at 9 a.m. for a pre-trial hearing that has already been continued several times.

Charges against Saunders were personally brought by Sheila Paquette, Burns’ sister and co-guardian, after Paquette became frustrated with the slow pace of the state’s investigation into the case.  Paquette has also been frustrated that she has gotten little information about the case so far from state and law enforcement authorities, which have not released an investigative report done by DDS on the matter.

However, in an email late last week to Paquette, Gail Quinn, the deputy general counsel of the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, did provide Paquette with the investigator’s recommendations.  In addition to the recommendation against allowing Saunders to work with DDS clients, the investigator’s report cites the group home for failing to “identify” Burns’ injuries before sending him to his day program the morning after the alleged assault, and recommends retraining of staff in that regard.

Quinn also said the DPPC is changing its policy as a result of this case of  withholding investigative reports from guardians of victims of alleged abuse pending the outcome of criminal investigations.  She stated that the agency will notify district attorneys’ offices of its intention to send out investigative reports to guardians within a specified time frame unless the district attorney objects.  Quinn wrote that the DPPC has issued such a notification to the district attorney in Burns’ case.

Quinn added in her email that, “The delay in getting (investigative) Reports out has been very concerning to us.  Your case has brought the issue to the fore, and we have been able to deal with it in a manner that we think represents everyone’s interests in the content of the Report.”

Paquette, who is president of the Advocacy Network and a COFAR member, termed the DPPC’s new policy “encouraging,” but said she still isn’t convinced the system is fully on the victim’s side in these types of cases.  Nevertheless, she said she is appreciative of Quinn’s comments.

Instances of assault and abuse of persons with intellectual disabilities often don’t get prosecuted by law enforcement authorities, and other state agencies tend to function slowly and inefficiently in these cases.  Paquette said she was told by an investigator that had she not personally pressed charges in this case, it could have taken as long as two years for the matter to reach criminal court.

I talked about that today with Emil DeRiggi, deputy executive director of the DPPC, who said the agency supports decisions of individual family members or guardians to personally press charges in abuse cases.  “We generally support anyone who learns something happened and believes filing charges is the right thing to do,” DeRiggi said.  “I would encourage people to do whatever they think is best in these instances.”

DeRiggi said that in the case of Paquette’s brother, the State Police Unit assigned to the DPPC referred the matter to the district attorney’s office on Cape Cod, where the alleged assault took place.  While that implies the case would have gone to criminal court without Paquette’s intervention, it does appear that her decision to press charges on her own may have, at the very least, speeded up the wheels of justice in this instance.

One other note:  We have recieved the police report in the case from the Falmouth Police Department, where Paquette initally filed the assault charges.  The report states that the alleged assault was witnessed by Burns’ roommate, who “reported seeing Mr. Saunders hand covering the mouth of Mr. Burns…and then witnessed Mr. Saunders strike Mr. Burns in the face with an open hand.”   Saunders has denied the charge, according to the police report.

More on the ‘miracle’ of Templeton

March 21, 2011 4 comments

[NOTE:  Last month, we first posted an article here about the importance of the Templeton Developmental Center to three men living there and to their families.  Below, I’ve posted some more information about those men and their experience, which didn’t make it into that first blog and which we weren’t able to include in the just-released March issue of The COFAR Voice.]

Jimmy Holdsworth kept getting thrown out of community-based group homes and sheltered workshops because his behavior was too volatile and his size and strength were too much for the staff to handle.

For Tony Welcome, community-based programs were ineffective in getting him to stop stealing cars.

Bobby Shepherd’s habit of wandering and trying to make friends with strangers frequently got him into trouble, and community-based programs didn’t provide the structure and supervision he needed.

In each of those cases, the Templeton Developmental Center turned out to be the solution to years of pain and struggle, not only for the men, but for their families.   But it’s a solution that will no longer be available to those families or the families of the 103 other remaining residents of Templeton  as of the end of Fiscal Year 2013.

The Templeton Center is one of four state-run Intermediate Care Facilities in Massachusetts that the Patrick administration has targeted for closure.  The others slated to be closed are the Fernald, Glavin, and Monson developmental centers.

Families and guardians of the residents of the facilities have protested the planned closures and, in the case of Fernald, have filed administrative appeals of the transfers of the residents.

But as many guardians see it, it’s not the closures of the buildings that make up the developmental centers that are at issue; the problem lies in the planned elimination of the federally prescribed level of care provided in them.

At Templeton, for instance, the administration plans to continue to operate three existing residences for persons with intellectual disabilities as community-based programs and to build two additional duplex homes on the grounds.   Those residences, however, will no longer be subject to federal ICF regulations governing staffing and care.

The dairy barn at Templeton

Bonnie Valade, Tony Welcome’s mother and guardian, was only able to get her son admitted to Templeton after a long struggle with the then Department of Mental Retardation (now Developmental Services), which had continually contended that Tony was not intellectually disabled.

By the time Tony was 19, he had already been placed in a number of mental health facilities, which had failed to control his impulse to steal cars.  His IQ had continually been measured in the 50s, which is well below the DMR requirement that a person have a maximum IQ of 70 in order to receive services. 

But when Tony was tested by DMR at at the age of 19, his IQ was found to be 75, making him ineligible for DMR care.  Two years later, DMR rejected him again after measuring his IQ at 71, just one point over the cut-off for eligibility.   As a result, Tony was placed in a Department of Mental Health facility with eight emotionally disturbed females, which turned out to be inappropriate for him, and later in a homeless shelter.

 At one point, with eight different car theft charges pending against him, Tony spent six months in the Worcester County Jail, where he was beaten so badly by another inmate that he had to be placed in solitary confinement for his own protection.  Since Tony was accepted at Templeton in 1989 at the age of 24, he has not had any further behavioral incidents, Valade says. 

When Tony was in the community system, he had alcohol problem.  Today, he suffers a low red blood cell count because  anti-psychotic drugs had been improperly administered to him in the community-based system while he was drinking alcoholic beverages.  The licensed nursing staff at Templeton understand this, Valade says; but Valade is concerned that once he is back in the community system, drugs will be administered to Tony by direct-care workers with minimal training. 

As far as Tony Shepherd is concerned, it will no longer be beneficial for his brother, Bobby, to continue living in his residence at the Templeton Center following a change from ICF-level care there to community-based care.  Shepherd, who is Bobby’s guardian, is concerned that under the community-based care model, the intensive clinical and medical supports that have sustained Bobby for more than 50 years will be greatly reduced.

Shepherd said, for instance, that he is grateful for quick action by Templeton’s nursing staff when he was visiting Bobby last fall and noticed while they were having lunch in the cafeteria that he seemed to be feeling unwell.  Shepherd asked if a nurse was available, and one arrived within two minutes, checked Bobby’s color and vital signs and then returned with a wheelchair and took him to the nurse’s station.

There, according to Tony Shepherd, further examination showed that Bobby was experiencing a drop in his oxygen level.  He was administered oxygen and kept overnight at the nurse’s station for observation.  Had he been living in a community-based group home, it is unlikely that a nurse would have been available to respond to the emergency, Shepherd believes.

Shepherd notes that at Templeton, nurses, doctors, and other trained medical personnel are available on a full-time basis to monitor Bobby’s health and administer his medications.  A clinical board meets quarterly to evaluate the effectiveness of his prescriptions.

Bobby Shepherd’s intellectual disability stems from low oxygen levels that he experienced at birth.  He is verbal, Tony says, but can’t read or write.  He has always been nonviolent, but was never easy for his parents to control because of his habit of wandering away from his house.   He has a trusting and friendly nature, and has always tried to make friends with total strangers.  That would sometimes get him into trouble.

At Templeton, Bobby lives with four other men in a two-story, white farmhouse called Waite Lodge.  He’s free to come and go on the Templeton campus, but lately his breathing problems have kept him from venturing out.

Tony Shepherd is worried about Bobby’s future after Templeton closes.  At 73, Tony is seven years older than Bobby.  “What’s going to happen to him and who is going to look after him if he’s still around after I’m gone?” Shepherd asked.  Bobby, he adds, is a “genuine ‘babe in the woods’” who would become “a target of ridicule and abuse [in a less supervised environment] because of his natural but naive belief that everyone is his friend.”

Had the administration not planned to eliminate the ICF model of care at Templeton, Shepherd said he would be a lot less worried about his brother.  “The staff is simply not going to be here once this place is switched over to state-operated group homes,” he said.  “We’ll be lucky if there are any clinical people left here at all.”

For Jimmy Holdworth’s parents, a social life proved impossible because no community-based residence or program could handle their son, and because he couldn’t be left at home with caretakers other than themselves. 

It was only when his parents were in their 60s that Jimmy was finally admitted to Templeton, according to his sister, Judy Holdsworth, who is now his guardian.  “At Templeton, he learned for the first time to control himself.  It was amazing to me,” she said.

Holdsworth said that in addition to intensive behavioral therapies, the clinical staff at Templeton placed Jimmy on medications to control his impulsiveness and aggression.  At first, she said, her parents resisted the idea of placing their son on any medications, but they were persuaded it was the right thing to do when they saw how carefully it was monitored.

“His psychiatrist and nurse always talked with us about it,” Holdsworth said.  “We’ve been very satisfied with the way it has worked.”  She said her brother is active, alert, and healthy, and “everyone at Templeton can tell when something is bothering him.  That’s part of the miracle that occurred with my brother.”

Justice elusive in assaults of the intellectually disabled

March 14, 2011 14 comments

When Sheila Paquette found out her intellectually disabled brother had apparently been viciously assaulted while on an outing from his group home last June, she had no idea of the long road she would be traveling to seek justice in the case.

What she — and we at COFAR as well — have learned is that there often isn’t a lot of interest among law enforcement authorities in prosecuting cases of abuse of the disabled, or in the mainstream media in reporting on it.  Paquette is a COFAR member and president of the Advocacy Network, a COFAR affiliate, which advocates on behalf of persons with intellectual disabilities in Massachusetts. 

Paquette’s brother, John Burns, was allegedly assaulted by John Saunders,  a group home staff worker, who allegedly poked his fingers in both of Burns’ eyes while he was toileting Burns.  The alleged incident occurred in the late morning at a vacation house on Cape Cod that was rented by the Center for Human Development, a state contractor operating Burns’ West Springfield-based group home. 

Burns was not examined by a doctor until the following day, when he was taken, at Paquette’s insistence, to Noble Hospital in Westfield.  Paquette said she was told by the medical staff there that Burns’ black eyes “were consistent with somebody taking their fingers and shoving them right into his eyes with sufficient force to cause blood to pool.” 

In an article in the Advocacy Network’s Fall 2010 newsletter, Paquette  wrote that she took the unusual step some three weeks after the alleged assault of personally filing a felony charge against Saunders of Assault and Battery on a Disabled Person.  “Until I filed the charge myself, the situation wasn’t taken seriously by the law enforcement authorities,” Paquette contends.

Photo taken of injuries to John Burns' eyes

Paquette isn’t alone in questioning our society’s commitment to ensuring justice or safety for persons with intellectual disabilities.   The New York Times reported yesterday that an inquiry by the paper found that New York State’s group home system of care “operates with scant oversight and few consequences for employees who abuse the vulnerable population.”

 An investigation by The Cincinnati Enquirer described “a statewide law enforcement system (in Ohio) that routinely fails to investigate and punish those who abuse and neglect mentally retarded citizens.”   There’s not much reason to assume the situation is any different in Massachusetts.

Paquette said the alleged assault of her brother was witnessed by his  roommate, who said the incident was entirely unprovoked.   Later in the day, Burns and his roommate were driven back to West Springfield by another staff member of the group home.   Paquette said her brother  had to sit in the back seat with Saunders, the alleged perpetrator, the whole way. 

Paquette wrote that she was later told informally by an investigator that her brother spent the night in his group home moaning and crying.   But it wasn’t until he was sent the following day to his regular day program that someone from the program called Paquette’s other brother, Jim, who shares guardianship with her.  The caller said John Burns had two black eyes and was being sent back to his residence.

That was the first Paquette had heard about the injury to her brother.  She said she gathered her camera and a notebook and went to the group home to find her brother indeed with two big black eyes.  It was then that she began to experience the  first of many frustrations with the state’s system for responding to reports of abuse of the intellectually disabled.

After examining her brother, she asked the house manager to report the injury to the police and the Disabled Persons Protection Commission.  But when a police officer arrived at the house, he said he couldn’t investigate the incident because it had occurred in another town, outside his jurisdiction.

The DPPC was called immediately to investigate.  But the chronically under-funded agency handed the investigation over to the Department of Developmental Services (which funds the contractor running the group home).  

Fortunately, Paquette said,  the management of the group home did take the situation seriously.  Both the house manager and his supervisor questioned Burns’ roommate on separate occasions about what he saw, and were convinced his description of the event was consistent and credible.  Burns’ roommate is intellectually disabled, but is able to communicate.  CHD fired Saunders immediately, based on the assault allegation.

Nevertheless, the system has been slow and inefficient in tracking Saunders down.  Saunders failed to show up in Falmouth District Court for a pre-trial hearing that had been scheduled in October.   He is currently free on bail and is currently scheduled to appear in court on March 28.

In the meantime, Paquette has gotten little information about the case, she says, from the investigating authorities.  The DPPC, for instance, will not release the report done on the incident by DDS even to her because the matter is under criminal investigation.

“I’ve gotten nothing in writing from DPPC and nothing from CHD,” Paquette says.  “The DPPC says they can’t release anything to me because it’s in criminal court, but it’s in court only because I happened to file the charges.

“What did the DDS find out about this case?” Paquette adds.  “What did CHD write up?  If everyone in those agencies has seen those reports, why not  the victim, or at least why not me, who is the victim’s voice?  It’s almost surreal.  It’s just like fog.  I’m trying to stay calm, but I find myself getting more and more irritated.”

At COFAR, we’ve also been frustrated in trying to get media coverage of this case.  Although we notified the media around the state prior to a pre-trial hearing for Saunders that was scheduled for March 3, no one showed up to cover the hearing, and nothing appeared in any media publication about it.

Paquette said her goal isn’t “to put someone in jail for 30 days,  it’s to have a jury hear this case, to let people know about this problem (of abuse of the intellectually disabled),  and to make sure agencies check on their employees and make sure they can fire them if they are causing these types of problems.”

We all know that the media is facing its own financial issues and is cutting back on its coverage of issues in all facets of society.  Yet, in New York and Ohio, newspapers have recognized the importance of the problem of abuse of the disabled.  

After we sent follow-up emails to some local newspapers in the Cape Cod (location of the pre-trial hearing) and Springfield areas (location of Burns’ group home), we heard back from the editors of The Cape Cod Times and The Daily Hampshire Gazette.  We were told by the Cape Cod paper’s editor that their news editor is “considering”  a story about the incident that would run around the time of the next court date.  The editor of The Gazette said somewhat apologetically that West Springfield is outside of that paper’s circulation area, but otherwise, “we would have covered this type of story.”

The Springfield Republican initially assigned a reporter to the story, but nothing has appeared in the paper, and neither the reporter nor the executive editor have responded to our follow-up emails about the matter. 

Paquette noted, by the way, that 15 years ago, her brother was badly injured by a house manager in a different residence in Westfield.  At that time, The Boston Globe sent a reporter all the way out to Westfield to interview her, and Geraldo Rivera sent a television reporter as well.  Times have apparently changed.

Among the issues Paquette would like to find out is why the firm running the day program, in particular, didn’t bring her brother to the hospital immediately, but rather just sent him home after observing his black eyes. 

She also wants to know whether a State Police unit attached to the DPPC is conducting its own investigation of the case, separate from the Falmouth District Attorney’s Office.   It was only after she filed the charge  that the DPPC sent a Massachusetts State Trooper to her home to interview her, Paquette says. 

Paquette believes her decision to personally file the charge took many people by surprise.  “I don’t think it occurred to anyone I would go and file charges myself,” she says.  “I believe everyone was waiting around for DPPC and DDS to go do whatever they do.”  She said she was told by a DDS investigator that had she left the matter entirely in that agency’s hands, “this more than likely would have taken two years for this to get to the criminal court.  I short circuited the process, she says.”