March 8, 1998 in City

State Closes Boarding Home After Resident Gives Birth But Regulators Acknowledge They Knew Of Allegations Earlier

Associated Press
 

State regulators have acknowledged they were aware as early as June of allegations of nonconsensual sex between residents at a Bellingham adult boarding home, but didn’t look into them at the time.

The Department of Health on Friday ordered The Homestead closed and its 24 mentally ill or developmentally disabled residents to other facilities only after finding out that a resident had given birth in a bathroom.

Health officials said the facility’s staff failed to notify them of the mentally ill woman’s pregnancy or to provide her with prenatal care.

On June 13, a Department of Social and Health Services case manager filed a complaint against the home with the state Health Department, Regional Long-Term Care Ombudsman Doug Lafferty told The Bellingham Herald.

That complaint was the result of the death earlier that month of a 56-year-old resident, Maria Schumacher, from burns she suffered in a bathtub at the home. Schumacher had Down syndrome. The state attorney general’s office determined no crime occurred in her death.

The complaint also included reports of nonconsensual sex between residents and residents not being supervised.

The Health Department focused on the death but did not investigate the sex allegations, a top department official acknowledged.

“They obviously were very heavily embroiled in the death,” Gary Bennett, acting director of facilities and services licensing at the Health Department, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “They let it (the sex investigation) slip.”

Bennett, who was not in the boarding-home program at the time the complaint was made, would not say whether those responsible would be disciplined for not pursuing the allegations.

The department has hired an outside investigator to probe its own investigation of Schumacher’s death and the other complaints.

A 43-year-old mentally ill woman who had been living at The Homestead since 1991 gave birth to a boy Thursday in a bathroom. The woman may not have been capable of consenting to sex, police said.

The woman and her baby were taken to St. Joseph Hospital after the birth was discovered by a staff worker.

© Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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