Disabled people living in four Washington state-run communities have died from choking on food, been sexually assaulted, denied basic treatment and given the wrong medication, according to a report released Wednesday by Disability Rights Washington.
“These institutions have a track record of seriously harming and neglecting their residents,” said Mark Stroh, the nonprofit advocacy group’s executive director.
Washington has four residential habilitation centers – including Lakeland Village in Medical Lake – that serve 800 people with developmental disabilities, according to the report, which was compiled using 2016 data from the state’s own surveyors.
The four centers run by the Washington state Department of Social and Health Services, Developmental Disabilities Administration are:
Lakeland Village in Medical Lake – RHC and skilled nursing facility
Fircrest in Shoreline – both an RHC and skilled nursing facility;
Rainier School in Buckley – RHC
Yakima Valley School in Selah – skilled nursing facility
The centers for disabled people support residents with developmental disabilities through a program designed to help each person live as independently as possible. People who live in the centers are “legally entitled to get 24-hour supervision, medical services and active treatment,” the report said.
But regular inspections during 2016 reported 257 allegations of injury of unknown origin, 25 accident allegations and 16 reports on the misuse of restraints and/or seclusion.
The report detailed several incidents that occurred at Lakeland Village. Included in the report are allegations that staff nurses let their certification slip, that staff used drugs to manage behavioral issues and staff denied food to one inmate who refused to come out of his room.
Lakeland Village Superintendent Tony DiBartolo said none of the allegations in the report are new and all have been addressed.
“All of this is past that has been corrected,” DiBartolo said. “We have regulatory people here on a regular basis. That’s their job. When we have serious incidents, we make sure we are doing our due diligence to ensure health and safety of the folks who work here.”
The Disability Rights Washington report includes several instances when the Lakeland Village staff used “chemical restraints,” or drugs, to sedate someone with behavioral problems.
“(Residential Care Services) found that the Lakeland Village allowed staff to use emergency chemical restraints for 9 of 11 Lakeland Village residents in one random sample and 2 of 13 in another sample,” the report stated. If true, those actions would be a violation of a law that governs how medications are supposed to be administered.
DiBartolo denied any violation and said all medications must first be approved by a nurse and then a physician before any new medications are given to patients.
The report also detailed the plan for a man with developmental disabilities who was placed on a diet “in an attempt to manage his desire to stay in his room. The plan called for staff to only provide diet supplements if he came out of his room.”
DiBartolo said those concerns “have been addressed.”
Asked whether the report should be a cause for alarm by the public, DiBartolo responded: “Not to me.”
However, Disability Rights Washington is calling for the creation of a panel that will identify the systemic causes of these abuses and identify solutions.
Adolfo Capestany, a spokesman for the state agency that oversees the centers, said they have responded to all safety violations that were identified by inspectors and most corrections have been implemented and others are in progress.
“The safety and well-being of our clients is paramount to the department,” he said.
Choking has been an ongoing concern, the report said.
It’s common for people with developmental disabilities to have trouble swallowing, so institutions provide special diets as well as assistance and supervision during meals.
“Unfortunately, Washington’s state-run institutions have been cited repeatedly for failing to follow such plans, and these repeated failures have resulted in deaths,” the report said.
Sexual assault is also cited by the report, again in reference to the Rainier center. One staffer was accused of raping two different female residents in two separate incidents in 2016, the report said. An investigation later identified two other residents who were potential sexual assault victims. Federal regulators cited the Rainier center for failing to ensure the residents were free from abuse.
Another man nearly drowned during a trip to a lake when Rainier staff left him alone in his wheelchair on a dock, and the chair tipped over and fell into the water, the report said. The man was strapped in and was unable to free himself. The man almost drowned until a bystander responded and cut the man free.
Medication errors were found at all the locations. Some resident charts were found to have the incorrect drug listed or the wrong dosage, according to the report.
“The report shines a bright light on some very serious human rights violations,” said Ed Holen, executive director of the Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council. “Unfortunately, the findings of the report are nothing new.”
Sue Elliot, executive director of the Arc of Washington, which advocates for the disabled, said the average cost of housing for a resident at these facilities is $611 per day, or $223,000 annually.
“You would think there is sufficient staff to comply with the federal requirements and prevent these ongoing instances of abuse and neglect,” she said.
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