In what may well be the final act for the Beatrice State Developmental Center, a Nebraska owned and operated residential facility for the developmentally disabled, Nebraska’s governor and its Chief Medical Officer ordered the facility move all “medically fragile” residents out of its care because of concerns that BSDC is not equipped to care for “individuals with complex medical needs.” The order comes after the death of four residents in the month of January alone, under conditions the Chief Medical Officer is investigating as medically negligent.
Federal funding for the facility was already at risk after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found approximately 200 cases of abuse and neglect at the facility between 2006 and 2007. In order to avoid prosecution and financial penalties in connection with the investigation, the state entered into a settlement agreement and vowed to remedy the conditions at Beatrice. Despite those pledges, very little seems to have changed.
Reports of neglect and abuse at residential facilities pop-up in the news from time to time, and, like Walter Reed, occasionally capture national attention. What’s missing from those reports, and what is really the story underlying the problems at BSDC, is the widespread, persistent and continuous depravation of rights by those in our society most at risk. Residents of these facilities usually exist in the shadows of our community, and many require extensive medical attention. They are usually at places like BSDC because there is nowhere left for them to go.
In March 2008, the Justice Department found that BSDC exists in a “cultural undercurrent that betrays human decency at the most fundamental levels” and that “basic human dignities are violated with considerable regularity” at BSDC. Now almost a year after the Justice Department issued its searing assessment of the management and operation of the facility, the facility is again under investigation.
Allegations of a lack of appropriate procedures to handle medical emergencies, incompetent staff, non-existent management and oversight plague BSDC as advocates for the residents continue to press for accountability from both the facility and the State. In the meantime the Department of Justice has yet another legacy of persistent and pernicious discrimination to address as a determination needs to be made about what to do with the facility and the hundreds of residents that remain. At that point, we can begin to assess the true extent of the damage done to these people, their families and the community because of the State’s simple failure to see their humanity, let alone recognize the dignity of their existence.