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Lawsuit Claims Disabled Abused At State-Run School

TUESDAY, OCT. 22, 1996

Several advocacy groups for the developmentally disabled sued the state-run Rainier School on Monday, claiming clients at the residential rehabilitation center in Pierce County are abused and neglected.

The Washington Protection and Advocacy System, which was created under federal law to protect the developmentally disabled, filed the class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle on behalf of six Rainier residents. The lawsuit seeks to have many of the facility’s residents transferred elsewhere.

WPAS attorneys say many of the 459 residents who live in the residential halls are neglected, abused and subjected to unnecessary physical restraints or given drugs to keep them under control.

The official who oversees Washington’s five state-run residential institutions disputed the allegations. Norm Davis, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, said the school has performed well under comprehensive surveys by the federal Health Care Financing Administration required to qualify for Medicaid funding.

In a statement released by the Department of Social and Health Services, Davis added that it is difficult to arrange services for clients with complex needs, such as self-injurious behavior, aggression toward others and severe seizure disorders.

Dave Wood, a lobbyist for some families who have relatives at the state’s five residential facilities, said the lawsuit is part of WPAS’ “hidden agenda” to force closure of the centers. He said the advocacy group really wants all developmentally disabled people to be cared for in group homes, a debate that’s being waged across the country.

The lawsuit cites as evidence the deaths of two Rainier residents in the past year.

In February, a 51-year-old man with a history of escape attempts walked out through an unlocked door and died of exposure. Last December, a 61-year-old woman with a history of falling down was strapped to a toilet and left unsupervised for several minutes. She lost consciousness and died five days later.

WPAS is joined in the lawsuit by the Autism Society of Washington, the Arc of Washington State and People First of Washington.

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