Thursday, December 1, 2011

Group home deaths? Not at RCIL!

When the New York Times delved into New York state data, the unknown, uninvestigated and overlooked deaths in state group homes raised an alert. Over the past months, The Times obtained and reviewed documents containing information on the deaths of each of 1,200 developmentally disabled people – those with quadriplegia, autism or cerebral palsy-- that occurred in state run homes in the last 10 years. The astounding results reinforce the importance of RCIL’s mission in ensuring dignity to all people.

According to the November 1st article, there have been 222 deaths in group or private-run New York homes is documented as having unknown or unnatural causes in the last decade. This averages to about 1 in 6, compared with 1 in 25 in group homes Connecticut, one of the few states that actually releases the data. New York’s information has never been made public.

The article details the tragedies that have ensued from lack of statewide oversight, uncovered or revisited only as a result of the research: Four of the nine residents were killed when a fire was sparked in the group home where they lived in Wells. After the feverish effort to evacuate members and put out the fire, it came to light that there were no sprinklers installed on the porch where the blaze was started and other construction issues that violate state fire regulations. There were further complications with the lack of communication between the home and fire department and an unrealistic evacuation plan based on the lack of mobility of the residents.

According to the Times’ research, deaths due to unreliable individual care or erratic home supervision were not isolated events. Over a quarter of the 222 reviewed cases of death that were investigated by New York state were caused by choking incidents, often with individuals who had already been deemed choking risks. Multiple people have been injured from falling or drowned while bathing when a caretaker didn’t return in time to turn off the running water. Often these accidents occur when there are a low number of staff who don’t follow the designated protocol although there are few, if any, staff member training days to avoid reoccurrence of such preventable deaths. In most cases the liable worker is dismissed from the position although the accountability rarely trickles to the governing members of the institution.

Each of these instances involves the helplessness and dehumanization of the developmentally disabled, as their fate, and ultimately life, can be tied to the capabilities and attention given to them by supports. It highlights the lack of appropriateness within the system, but at its root is the degradation and lack of genuine compassion for the disabled members of the community. “These deaths are marginalized because these sort of people are not valued by society,” said Patricia Taylor, the sister of James Taylor, a quadriplegic who drowned while bathing in 2005. RCIL, like other Independent Living Centers, on the rejection of these inhumane environments. In contrast, basic human respect and equality is the cornerstone of RCIL’s mission. Working with both the individual and natural supports, RCIL works to find solutions that are safe, economically viable, and centered around the individual.

When one in six deaths in New York state group homes is attributed to either unnatural or unknown causes, the assumption of intrinsic human value has never been more essential.

Click for the New York Times article.

- Katie J.