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Panel urges access to criminal records at group homes

Suggestions follow killing of counselor

By Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / July 1, 2011

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An advisory panel, formed after a group-home resident in Revere allegedly killed his counselor in January, recommended yesterday that workers at such facilities should have access to client’s criminal records in some cases.

The recommendation was one of 17 put forward by the group, which included mental health professionals and advocates and was started after the death of Stephanie Moulton of Peabody, 25. The panel was formed to evaluate safeguards for residents and staff at mental health centers operated by, or under contract with, the state.

Moulton, who was working as a counselor at a group home run by the North Suffolk Mental Health Association, was allegedly killed inside the facility by then-resident Deshawn James Chappell, 27, who has been charged with murder.

Moulton’s family has filed a wrongful death suit against several North Suffolk executives, alleging the nonprofit had no system in place for alerting employees to potentially violent clients, among other negligent practices.

John D. Frumer, an attorney for North Suffolk, declined to comment yesterday.

Yesterday, Moulton’s mother, Kim Flynn of Peabody, 47, said she agreed with the recommendation on criminal records.

The recommendation calls for a client’s risk assessment, which the state sends to the provider, to include a report from a psychologist or psychiatrist with access to the person’s criminal history “where appropriate.’’

“That’s definitely something that should be done,’’ Flynn said. “If the [counselor] has to be able to [provide care], then they need to know what’s going on. Everybody needs to be on the same page, and that doesn’t seem to be the way it works.’’

Barbara Leadholm, commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health, said under current policy, the agency only includes information about criminal histories in the assessments if clients allow the disclosure.

When asked if the records policy might be changed, she would only say her staff is considering all recommendations.

She said the department includes information about many other factors in the assessments, including a client’s clinical history, prior hospitalizations, and “risk management issues’’ that could arise for workers.

And, she said, the majority of clients living at group homes “are very successful living in the community.’’

Other recommendations include setting coverage levels at facilities through “ongoing formal risk review’’ and providing staff with a way to “rapidly summon assistance when needed.’’

Leadholm said the agency is prepared to begin implementing some recommendations in the near future, including a call to develop safety training plans for all state providers and caregivers under contract with the state agency.

An attorney for the Moulton family, Barry Feinstein of Peabody, said safety training for workers should be expanded.

“Certainly the training should be more extensive when you’re taking these young people who are so idealistic . . . and really putting themselves in harm’s way,’’ he said.

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com.