Group Home Failures Persist

By Karlyn Barker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 24, 2006

The District government continues to provide dangerous, substandard care to disabled residents at some of its group homes and has recently hampered oversight efforts by failing to provide full and timely information on critical operations, a federal court monitor has found.

In her latest quarterly report, court monitor Elizabeth Jones describes numerous and chronic problems with the city's Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration. She also questions whether she is getting complete reports on death investigations, saying that at least one document she received from the District was edited to remove information critical of the city.

A review of five deaths between late 2004 and late 2005 showed that recommendations issued after death investigations weren't always shared with direct care providers, putting group home residents at risk, she said.

"Staff cited for neglect continue to be employed in the system," she wrote.

Jones's report could not have come at a worse time for the D.C. government, which is fending off an attempt to have the troubled mental retardation agency placed in court receivership. A hearing on the request is set for Thursday.

The District opposes court takeover, arguing that it would derail reform efforts. City officials filed a detailed response to the court monitor's report but would not comment further. They disputed many of Jones's criticisms and said the city is moving on several fronts to address her concerns about health care and access to information.

"Promising efforts are being made to empower provider medical staff to better lead the delivery of care," the officials said.

Jones's report did not provide details of the five deaths, four of which she has mentioned in previous reports. She said separate reports on each death will be filed with the court after a physician hired by her office completes a review.

An attorney for the family of one of the deceased, a 58-year-old man in fragile health who lived in a group home in Northeast Washington, said he died in September after choking on peaches.

"He was blind and deaf and had become increasingly debilitated in the six months" before his death, the attorney, Joseph Cammarata, said, adding that the family did not want to release his name.

"It's hard to explain how a person who was being assisted eating choked, unless there was some type of carelessness," he said. "It's beyond time for someone to act to prevent these tragedies from recurring."

A spokeswoman for the group home operator, Metro Homes, which runs nine residential facilities in the city, said the man received "quality care up until the time he was taken to the ER." She would not comment further.

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