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Archive for October, 2013

Did the administration cover up an alleged fatal assault at the Templeton Center?

October 30, 2013 5 comments

Did the Patrick administration cover up a serious crime last month at a Department of Developmental Services facility?

That question is certainly raised by a story on Sunday in The Worcester Telegram & Gazette about the death of Dennis Perry, an intellectually disabled man, who was allegedly assaulted at the Templeton Developmental Center.

In what has been described by witnesses as an unprovoked attack, Anthony Remillard, 22, allegedly shoved Perry, 64, into a boiler on September 16 while the two men were working at the Templeton facility’s dairy barn.  Perry suffered a head injury in the incident and died at UMass Memorial Medical Center on September 27.

We’ve raised a number of questions about the admission and supervision of Remillard at Templeton, but Sunday’s Telegram & Gazette article reveals many new facts about the case, based on court records.  Among them was that Templeton administrators  never reported the alleged attack on Perry by Remillard to police or the district attorney.

According to the newspaper, investigators learned of the alleged assault from the state medical examiner.   When state police arrested Remillard on October 2 — more than two weeks after the alleged assault — he was still living at the Templeton Center.

In failing to report the alleged assault on Perry, the administration appears to have violated a state law (M.G.L. Chapter 19B, Section 10), which requires the superintendent of any DDS facility to report any serious crime at that facility to the district attorney within a week.  It seems questionable that the superintendent of a state facility should be given even that much time to get around to reporting  a serous crime to police.  But, in this case, more than two weeks apparently went by with no report.

Moreover, as a spokesman for the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office confirmed to me, by the time investigators learned of the alleged assault, Dennis Perry was already dead, meaning this case involves a potentially unreported homicide.  It seems unlikely that top administrators at DDS were not informed about both the alleged assault when it happened and Dennis Perry’s death 11 days later.  Why did they not report either one?

But that’s not the only thing the administration apparently failed to report about this case.

According to the Telegram & Gazette story, a Worcester Superior Court judge had set conditions in sending Remillard to Templeton last year, one of which was that any incidents involving him be reported to the court.  Eight months before he allegedly shoved Perry in the barn, Remillard allegedly punched a Templeton staff member in the chest and had to be restrained. Templeton never reported that incident, the newspaper reported, quoting investigators.  (The D.A. spokesman confirmed to me that alleged reporting failure as well.)

As the newspaper previously reported, Remillard had been charged prior to his admission to Templeton in a May 2012 arson in a vacant building in Worcester.  At his arraignment on that charge,  the Worcester County D.A. had recommended that he be evaluated at either Bridgewater State or Worcester State Hospital.  But the recommendation was rejected by the judge, and Remillard was allowed to enter a “pre-trial release commitment” at Templeton, a less secure facility.

On Sunday, The Telegram & Gazette reported that Remillard was developmentally disabled and repeatedly found not competent to stand trial in previous criminal cases.  His history includes charges that he hit his 12-year-old brother in the face with a baseball bat in May 2011, and that four months later he threatened someone with a knife and punched him in the face.  In addition, in June 2012, one month after he allegedly set fire to the vacant building in Worcester, Remillard was admitted to a psychiatric facility due to a “psychotic break,” and cut off a GPS bracelet.

Remillard did have a treatment plan at Templeton, which required that he be monitored by staff at all times except when in his room with his door alarm on, the newspaper reported.  Among the many questions raised by this case is how he could have been in a position to allegedly assault and fatally injure Perry if he was under close staff supervision.

“My concern is that a man is dead, and there were things that were supposed to happen that could have prevented this, and they didn’t happen,” District Attorney Joseph Early told the Worcester paper.

Thomas Frain, COFAR’s president, is quoted in the article as noting that the administration is moving to close and privatize intermediate care facilities such as Templeton.  As a result, most of the residents remaining in these state facilities are elderly.  “This population is old, frail and medically needy,”  Frain said. “Why were they holding someone violent and dangerous with a docile 64-year-old man? Someone is dead for no apparent reason. If you’re going to take someone like that, you have an obligation to keep everyone safe. I think they should answer for what happened there.”

The only answer the Telegram & Gazette was able to get from the administration in response to all of these questions is the same one-paragraph response we received when we asked for DDS’s policies and procedures regarding admissions and supervision of people with behavioral problems at Templeton.  That response reads as follows:

In response to your basic questions about admission criteria and policies at Templeton Developmental Center, all individuals referred to TDC for admission must be eligible for supports by the Department of Developmental Services.  Staffing and clinical services are individualized for each person and DDS works to promote the health and safety of all residents.

At the very least, we hope that state legislators will hold a hearing on the apparent administrative failures that allowed this tragedy to happen and the alleged failure on the part of the administration to report a serious crime to police.

It would be one thing if Dennis Perry’s death had happened out of the blue.  But Remillard was well known to be dangerous and prosecutors were concerned enough about him that they didn’t want him sent to Templeton.  DDS knew about Remillard’s background and apparently did not do enough to protect those around him.   Coupled with this is the fact that the administration has been steadily downsizing staffing in facilities like Templeton and exposing remaining residents there to increasingly dangerous conditions.

On top of all of that, it appears there may be a policy in place of not reporting violent incidents even to police, and it’s hard to believe that policy does not come from the top at DDS and perhaps even at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

It looks an awful lot to us like a cover-up was put in place in this case.  Certainly, so far, no one at DDS or in the administration as a whole is publicly accepting any responsibility for what happened to Dennis Perry.  There seems to be no accountability.

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Compromise bill expands DDS eligibility to some, but not all people with developmental disabilities

October 28, 2013 8 comments

After months of negotiations with a limited group of advocates for the developmentally disabled, key state legislators have approved a draft of a bill intended to expand services to people who are not currently eligible for help from the Department of Developmental Services.

The bill (H. 3715) would expand eligibility for residential and other services to people with what is now referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder, although the legislation uses the older term “autism” to describe the group.  The bill also specifically mentions Prader-Willi Syndrome – a disability often associated with autism.

While a step forward, the compromise bill appears to leave out a number of other disabilities that are eligible for similar services in many other states, such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, spina bifida, and traumatic brain injury, and cognitive impairments such as Williams Syndrome.

We understand top Patrick administration officials were concerned about the price tag in including a large list of developmental disabilities in the bill.  State law currently restricts eligibility for services from DDS to persons having an “intellectual disability” as measured by an IQ score of approximately 70 or below.  Intellectual disabilities are considered a subset of developmental disabilities.

Currently, thousands of people in the state are developmentally disabled in that they are unable to care for themselves or otherwise function adequately in society; yet, they are ineligible for services from the state because they do not have an intellectual disability.

The new bill, which appears to have been hastily drafted, would extend DDS services to people with developmental disabilities,  but would restrict the definition of a developmental disability to “a severe, chronic disability of an individual 5 years of age or older that is attributable to a mental or physical impairment’s (sic) resulting from intellectual disability, Autism or Prader-Eilli (the spelling should be Prader-Willi) Syndrome.”   The bill was approved on October 21 by the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee and sent to the Health Care Financing Committee.

Colleen Lutkevich, COFAR Executive Director, cited, as an example of someone who would fall through the cracks of the new legislation, a person with normal intelligence but with a severe level of cerebral palsy that precludes him or her from being able to feed or toilet himself or herself.  Under the compromise bill, that person would not be considered developmentally disabled and therefore would still not qualify for services.  “Services are needed at all levels for people with all types of disabilities,” Lutkevich said.

A previous draft of the bill had not specified any developmental disabilities in expanding DDS eligibility, but had defined developmental disability as a condition “attributable to a mental or physical impairment,” which results in “substantial functional limitations” in three or more “major life activities.”  Those activities included self-care, receptive and expressive language, learning, mobility, self-direction, a capacity for independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.

That previous draft would have included people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy if those disabilities were severe enough to cause substantial functional limitations in three or more major life activities.  As such, the previous draft would have “focused pragmatically on the challenges faced by the individual and their family, and avoided leaving people to fall between the cracks,” as one advocate described it.

We are hopeful that the Legislature and the administration will find a way to include in this bill all those who are in need of DDS services.  Many other states have figured out ways to avoid leaving vulnerable people behind, and Massachusetts should be among those innovative states.

Fatal assault at Templeton Center raises questions about admissions and staffing

October 16, 2013 6 comments

The death last month of an intellectually disabled man, who was allegedly assaulted at the Templeton Developmental Center by a resident there, appears to raise questions about the dangerousness of the people being admitted to the facility and the adequacy of the staffing and supervision there.

Dennis Perry, 64, was allegedly assaulted on September 16 by Anthony Remillard, 22, while the two men were working at the Templeton facility’s dairy barn.  At the time, Perry was a resident of a group home and was working in the barn on a daily basis.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported that Perry had allegedly been shoved by Remillard into a boiler in the barn and suffered a serious head injury. The incident occurred in front of two staff members whose statements indicated the attack was unprovoked, according to the newspaper, which was quoting from a State Police report of the incident. Perry died on September 27 at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

Prior to his admission to Templeton, Remillard had been charged in a May 6, 2012 arson in a vacant building in Worcester, according to the newspaper.  At his arraignment on that charge,  prosecutors recommended that Remillard be evaluated at either Bridgewater State or Worcester State Hospital.  But the recommendation was rejected by the judge, and Remillard was allowed to enter a “pre-trial release commitment” at Templeton.

The Templeton Center, located in Baldwinville in central Massachusetts, has been marked for closure since 2008.  The facility is scheduled to be converted into state-operated group homes from its current status as an Intermediate Care Facility for the developmentally disabled (ICF/DD).

Paula Perry, Dennis Perry’s sister, said she and other family members were told by the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office that Remilard’s attorney didn’t feel that either Bridgewater State or Worcester State Hospital would be a safe environment for his client, and Remillard “was okayed to go to Templeton.” She said her family was unaware that there were any residents with criminal backgrounds or criminal charges at Templeton. They only found out about Remillard’s previous arrest on the arson charge after reading about it in the newspaper.

Paula Perry added that she understands that Templeton had the option of refusing to accept Remillard. “Why they would accept someone like that I don’t know,” she said.

While Templeton has historically accepted individuals with criminal backgrounds as residents, those persons have in the past been carefully evaluated as to their level of dangerousness prior to admission, according to Bonnie Valade, a COFAR Board member and the mother of a Templeton resident.

At this point, we don’t know if Remillard has an intellectual disability or not.  If he does have ID, it might have been appropriate to have considered him for admission to Templeton.   However, Dennis Perry’ death does appear to raise questions about whether Remillard should have been there and whether the staff supervision of him was adequate.  Here was someone who had an allegedly violent criminal past and who was allegedly capable of unprovoked violence. To us, the two linked questions here are:  Why was Remillard admitted to Templeton over the objection of the DA, and why was he allegedly able, once there, to attack and fatally injure someone?

We sent an email request on Monday to DDS Commissioner Elin Howe, seeking the Department’s policies and procedures regarding both admission to Templeton, and staff supervision of residents who have either behavioral problems or criminal convictions or charges on their records.  We want to know specifically whether persons who are not intellectually disabled are ever sent to Templeton, and whether any of the Department’s policies regarding admissions and staffing have changed since Templeton was slated for closure in 2008.

Since 2008, the Patrick administration has significantly phased down operations at  two ICFs/DD — Templeton and the Fernald Developmental Centers, and closed two others — the Glavin Regional Center and the Monson Developmental Center.  ICFs/DD are required to meet strict federal standards for treatment and staffing that do not apply to group homes and other community-based residential settings in Massachusetts and other states.

Since 2008, Templeton’s residential population has been reduced from 123 to 42.  Valade maintains that as the population there has gone down, both staffing and services at the center have been steadily reduced as well.  Here is what Valade had to say about Templeton in an email in the wake of Dennis Perry’s death.  The situation she describes may have a bearing on the case:

Shortly after the (Templeton) closure was announced, the staff that had been there started to leave. I was reminded that none were let go. Well, no one had to be told to leave…if you are told your place of employment is closing you look elsewhere for work. So they lost the best staff. These staff members had been there for years, which made them the best qualified staff I have ever known, and the clients felt like they were family.

… I am in fear for my son…with his issues he could have been the Dennis (Perry) or the Anthony (Remillard).  For years I have felt my son was in a safe environment, and now here I am worried sick about his care.

No one with a family member in the DDS system should be worried sick about their care.  The Department can help by providing answers as soon as possible to the questions we’ve asked about their admissions and staffing policies at Templeton.  And we hope the Department cooperates fully with the Perry family, in particular, in providing the answers they are seeking in this case.

A disappointing update on sheltered workshops in Massachusetts

October 4, 2013 2 comments

In a post the other day, I suggested that state Department of Developmental Services Commissioner Elin Howe talk to family members of sheltered workshop participants, who maintain the programs have provided their loved ones with valuable social and skill-building activities.

But no such luck.

In an email notice send out yesterday, Howe announced that no new DDS clients will be referred to sheltered workshops in Massachusetts after January 1.  As we feared, this is the beginning of the end of this valuable program in the state.

Sheltered workshops provide opportunities for developmentally disabled people to do assembly work and other tasks in group settings, usually for small amounts of pay.  But for Commissioner Howe and other opponents of sheltered workshops, these programs are politically incorrect.   Sheltered workshops, they argue, “segregate” disabled people from their non-disabled peers, apparently in just the same way schools and businesses in the South segregated blacks in the days before the Civil Rights movement.

Howe said sheltered workshop providers have been instructed to develop plans to “transition their workshop services to more integrated employment options,” meaning the plan is to place all workshop participants in the mainstream workforce.

Let’s leave aside the question whether it is really valid or fair to compare intellectually disabled people, whose guardians voluntarily place them in programs that provide them with work activities, to blacks who were forced until the 1960’s in this country to drink at separate water fountains and go to separate schools from whites.

For now, I would simply argue that we’re skeptical that closing programs that provide work activities for people with developmental services will somehow increase their overall employment opportunities.

I wonder if Commissioner Howe has thoroughly reviewed a 2011 report by the University of Massachusetts Boston on trends in employment prospects for people with developmental disabilities.

While the UMass report does appear to be biased against sheltered workshops, it notes that there has been relatively little movement so far toward mainstream employment of people with intellectual disabilities from sheltered workshops around the country.  The report cites as reasons for this lack of movement, “staff resistance, family resistance, and funding structures that do not adequately support community-based services for people with high support needs.”

In other words, families like and want their loved ones to stay in sheltered workshops; and it takes money to place people with Intellectual and developmental disabilities into mainstream jobs with the types of supervision and support they need.  And we’ve seen, that money isn’t there.  All of this seems to raise questions about the wisdom of DDS’s decision to stop all new referrals to sheltered workshops.

In fact, one of the outcomes of closing sheltered workshops, which appears to be highlighted in the UMass report, is that many, if not most, of the people who are participating in sheltered workshops will end up being transferred to what are called “non-work” settings if those workshops are closed.  Non-work settings, also known as day programs for people with developmental disabilities, may or may not provide them with meaningful work activities to do.

The UMass report noted that in 2010, there were 3,700 people with Intellectual disabilities in sheltered workshops in Massachusetts and about 3,500 people in “integrated employment.” However, there were about 9,500 people in “non-work” settings.   The report stated that: “State, county, and local IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities) dollars are increasingly being spent on CBNW (Community-based Non-Work) services and not integrated employment.”

So, our concern is that when all sheltered workshop programs are ultimately closed in Massachusetts, most of the former participants will end up in day programs where they do nothing and get no pay at all.  And even if many of these people are placed in so-called integrated employment, the outcomes may not all be good.  Howe certainly didn’t consult the Buonomo’s about their son’s disappointing experience working at Walmart, for instance.

Given all that, it was amusing to read in her email that Howe remains “strongly committed to working with all of our stakeholders” in ultimately closing all remaining sheltered workshops in the state.  I don’t recall her asking for our opinion on it or acknowledging the opinions of most family members of sheltered workshop participants.