In the past decade, one in six individuals with disabilities including autism, Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy living in such facilities has died of “unknown” causes:
The records suggested problems in care may be contributing to those unexplained deaths. The average age of those who died of unknown causes was 40, while the average age of residents dying of natural causes was 54.
The Times reviewed the case files of all the deaths not resulting from natural causes that the commission investigated over the past decade and found there had been concerns about the quality of care in nearly half of the 222 cases.
The records also showed that problems leading to deaths rarely resulted in systemwide steps, like alerts to all operators of homes, to prevent mistakes from recurring. Responses were typically limited to the group home where a resident died.
The NYT’s review of the records found that, in more than a few cases, choking was the cause of death, even though many of those who died were at risk for such and were not supposed to have access to food unless supervised.
Just as terribly, a group home for nine developmentally disabled adults in the Adirondack town of Wells burnt to the ground two and a half years ago. Four of the residents died; three wandered back into the burning house when staff members were preoccupied after one resident fell. The fire revealed that the staff were not adequately trained in safety procedures during such a disaster; indeed, “evacuation plans were based on unrealistic expectations that developmentally disabled residents would be able to flee in an emergency.” Sprinklers were only installed in some parts of the house and the fire department had never been told by the state about the presence of the group home and the developmental disabilities of its residents.
The Medicaid fraud settlement and the revelation of the “unknown causes” of the deaths of so many individuals with developmental disabilities under the state’s care do not only occur in New York. It’s more likely that such fraud is never detected, let alone reported, let alone prosecuted. Abuses against individuals with developmental disabilities, many of whom are not able to communicate what has happened to them, are vastly underreported. But will people hesitate even more to speak up about fraud and abuses, if doing so leads to reductions or even the elimination of services for those with disabilities?
Related Care2 Coverage
Photo by Just Jefa
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may
not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.