Feds move against Human Development Center | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Feds move against Human Development Center

Posted By on Tue, Mar 9, 2010 at 5:29 PM

The long-bubbling federal review of the Conway Human Development Center seems to have come to a full boil today.

The Justice Department today filed a motion in federal court to enjoin the admission of developmentally disabled children to the center to prevent their placement in "dangerous conditions" and to allow continued investigation of accusations of "imminent and serious threats to the safety of the facility's more than 500 residents."

Here's a copy of the motion (link repaired) for an injunction.

Justice filed a complaint against the state in January 2009. It said it had concluded that residents face "increasing and grave risk of harm each day that deficiencies are ignored." It cites, among others, the state's failure to move residents into community-based programs. Also:

The United States has concluded that children at the facility are particularly vulnerable given allegations that CHDC residents are subjected to dangerous medication mismanagement and harmful, unnecessary restraints.  In recent years, at least three CHDC residents have died, suffered possible permanent organ damage or been at risk of hemorrhaging to death because of psychotropic medication mismanagement.  CHDC also continues to utilize 41 different forms of mechanical restraints on both children and adults, including straitjackets, restraint chairs and papoose boards - practices that have been largely barred from other facilities for years.

I've sought comments from the state on today's development.

UPDATE: Said Matt DeCample in the governor's office:

As you know, Arkansas has been working with DOJ officials for many years to address their concerns at CHDC.  Nothing in that working relationship had changed to our knowledge, and we had no warning or indication that they were going to pursue this course of action.

This is an old story. Here, for example, is a five-year-old Justice Department investigation report sent to Gov. Mike Huckabee with similar allegations. The state has always exhibited a certain blindness about operations at Conway, as evidenced when this suit was filed more than a year ago and a state spokesman described Conway services as "wonderful." More than 500 people live there, most with profound or severe retardation. Some are in fragile health. In 2005, according to the Disability Rights Center, about three dozen were school-aged children. This link carries multiple links to the progress of this ongoing probe.

It is an unrelated divison of the state Human Services Department, but this news happens to come on a day I've received continuing tips about shortcomings in the state's child protective services, an agency whose work was highlighted in this week's cover story by David Koon. There is more to come from a former official about personnel qualifications and responsiveness at the agency. How many children fall through the cracks in Arkansas? And how long will legislators tolerate the lack of accountability from the agency, which won't discuss specifics of their cases and won't reveal what, if any consequences, were meted out to workers involved? The governor continues to disappoint in this field. Children pay the price. The Justice Department has the power to pull the covers off.

 

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT NEWS RELEASE

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today asked the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas to take immediate action to prevent children from being admitted to the Conway Human Development Center (CHDC) in Conway, Ark.  The department’s motion for preliminary injunction aims to prevent the segregation of children with developmental disabilities in dangerous conditions and to address accusations of imminent and serious threats to the safety of the facility’s more than 500 current residents. 

 
In January 2009, the Justice Department filed a complaint against the State of Arkansas to enforce the federal requirement that individuals with disabilities be served in the most integrated settings appropriate, and to remedy unconstitutional conditions at CHDC.  Information collected through discovery since the filing of the complaint has led the department to conclude that residents face increasing and grave risk of harm with each day that deficiencies are ignored, and that Arkansas fails to serve individuals in the most integrated setting appropriate to the residents’ needs.  

The United States has concluded that children at the facility are particularly vulnerable given allegations that CHDC residents are subjected to dangerous medication mismanagement and harmful, unnecessary restraints.  In recent years, at least three CHDC residents have died, suffered possible permanent organ damage or been at risk of hemorrhaging to death because of psychotropic medication mismanagement.  CHDC also continues to utilize 41 different forms of mechanical restraints on both children and adults, including straitjackets, restraint chairs and papoose boards - practices that have been largely barred from other facilities for years.


“The State has a responsibility to ensure the safety of individuals who reside in state-run facilities, and we must act swiftly when the state does not live up to that responsibility,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division.  “Individuals with developmental disabilities have the right to live in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, and states must take swift action to ensure that all individuals are accorded these basic rights.”
In addition to barring inappropriate restraints and requiring safeguards to prevent dangerous medication practices, the motion seeks to require that the state remove barriers to the provision of supports and services in the community, so that individuals with disabilities, including the approximately 50 children at CHDC, are not forced to choose between an unsafe institution and the denial of necessary services in a more integrated setting.

Between June 1, 2007, and Oct. 1, 2009, a CHDC resident was more likely to die than be discharged to a more integrated setting.  On average, CHDC residents die at the age of 46.5 years, compared with the average age of 72 years for other individuals with developmental disabilities living in institutional settings.  The number of individuals with developmental disabilities who are waiting to receive community-based services is on the rise in Arkansas, with over 1,300 currently waiting to receive services through the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services Alternative Community Services waiver program, with an average wait time of approximately two and a half years.


        The Civil Rights Division is authorized to conduct investigations under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).  CRIPA authorizes the Attorney General to investigate conditions of confinement in certain institutions owned or operated by, or on behalf of, state and local governments.  In addition to residential facilities serving persons with developmental disabilities, these institutions include psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, jails, prisons and juvenile correctional facilities.  The ADA authorizes the Attorney General to investigate whether a state is serving individuals in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs.  Please visit http://www.justice.gov/crt to learn more about CRIPA, the ADA and other laws enforced by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

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