Texas faulted on care of mentally disabled

More than 50 died in state schools

By Jeff Carlton
Associated Press / December 3, 2008
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DALLAS - More than 50 mentally disabled patients in the large state-run homes of Texas died in the past year from preventable conditions often related to poor care, a federal investigation revealed yesterday.

Among other findings were that a resident had swallowed latex gloves three times and that a teenage resident with mild mental retardation might have been raped by a male employee.

Overall, the state investigated at least 500 allegations of abuse, neglect, and other mistreatment of residents from July through September, according to the letter sent by the Department of Justice to Governor Rick Perry.

The findings mark the third time in three years that the Justice Department has investigated the Texas facilities, known as state schools. Similar findings of mistreatment at the Lubbock State School came out in 2006; the latest letter details deficiencies in Texas's 12 other state schools.

"We have concluded that numerous conditions and practices at the Facilities violate the constitutional and federal statutory rights of their residents," wrote Grace Chung Becker, an acting assistant attorney general in the civil rights division of the Justice Department.

In the one-year period ending in September, at least 114 residents died. Although many residents are considered medically fragile, at least 53 deaths were from possibly avoidable conditions such as pneumonia, bowel obstructions or sepsis, according to the letter.

Laura Albrecht, a spokeswoman with the Texas agency that oversees the institutions, said state officials are reviewing the investigation's findings.

"We will continue our . . . good-faith negotiations with the Department of Justice to reach a detailed and comprehensive agreement," Albrecht said. "And we will continue our ongoing improvements in the quality of care at the state schools."

In an e-mail, Albrecht said the schools are adding positions, improving staff training, reducing the use of restraints, and expanding community services for state school residents.

"The governor expects the Department of Aging and Disability Services to continue to ensure that corrective actions and improvements are implemented to provide appropriate and quality care for state school residents," said Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle.

Jeff Garrison-Tate, an advocate who wants the state schools closed, called the report "devastating and horrifying." He said he is concerned the Legislature will give the facilities more money for staffing instead of increasing resources for community-based group homes.

"These places are not fixable," Garrison-Tate said. "It scares the heck out of me that the Legislature might dump more money into these toilets."

Investigators singled out the frequent use of physical restraints as an injury factor.

In January 2007, a teenage resident died while being held in restraints, the letter said. At a different facility four months later, "staff reportedly broke a resident's shin bone as they slammed him to the ground during a restraint."

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