Judge Huvelle's Decision

Saturday, June 24, 2006

NOW WEIGHING a request to place the District's troubled mental retardation agency in court receivership, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle has plenty of credible information in hand to support charges of fatal neglect and abuse in city-contracted group homes for people with mental retardation. Two developments reported last week in The Post drive home the point that the Williams administration's oversight of the city's Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration (MRDDA) has left some of the city's most vulnerable residents in great danger.

And a federal court monitor's latest report says that the District government continues to give dangerous, substandard care to some disabled residents of group homes and that it has failed to provide full information about critical operations and some deaths in the past year.

It took considerable pressure from the council and The Post's Karlyn Barker to pry loose from a resisting MRDDA the stories about the deaths of mentally retarded wards of the District. One involved a 41-year-old man in declining health who died last June. His situation wasn't helped one bit by Community Alternatives of D.C., the organization that ran the group home where staff members gave him prune juice against his doctor's orders because they didn't have suppositories for his constipation. He ended up being rushed to Greater Southeast Community Hospital -- alone, because no one from the group home bothered to go with him. Matters got worse at Greater Southeast, where doctors operated to put a feeding tube in his stomach even though the organ had been removed at that hospital three years earlier. If that weren't enough, he was then transferred to Providence Hospital -- in poor shape -- to have the feeding tube placed in his small intestine. He reportedly wasn't seen by a doctor for nearly nine hours. By then he was dying. The man was one of five group home residents who died last year because of untimely attention and incompetent health care.

The next item Judge Huvelle should weigh is the congressional testimony of Marsha H. Thompson, the MRDDA chief until she was fired June 6 by Mayor Anthony A. Williams. True, Ms. Thompson is an employee scorned, but her charges against the Williams administration cannot be ignored. She told a House committee of being "rebuffed" by the administration in her efforts to reform MRDDA, said the agency was "in need of radical realignment" and recommended that the agency be placed in court receivership unless Mr. Williams commits to major changes in program funding and service delivery. The mayor's answer is to bring in another "national expert" to run the agency.

That falls short of the top-to-bottom changes that are needed. Advocates and the Justice Department are demanding more. If the judge agrees, there seems to be little choice.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company