An Elaborate Structure of Care for the District's Mentally Retarded
The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 16, 1999; Page A24
1990: The End of Institutionalization
For decades, most of the mentally retarded in the District's custody lived at Forest Haven, a large asylum in Laurel. Care and conditions in the institution deteriorated until 1990, when a federal judge under pressure from the Justice Department forced the institution to close.
In one of its most expensive social reforms, the District relocated Forest Haven residents to privately operated group homes and set up an elaborate system to ensure that they received more compassionate care.
1999: Community-Based Care
The structure: The District now cares for 1,100 mentally retarded residents in a network of 150 group homes run by nonprofit or for-profit companies. In the last decade, the city has spent more public money on community care, per capita, than anywhere else in the country.
The residents are divided into two categories based on their needs:
The City's Guarantees
- Medically fragile: Most of the District's retarded -- about 700 -- need special medical care for conditions that range from mental illness to cerebral palsy. Their treatment is funded by the federal Medicaid program. They are housed in group homes known as intermediate care facilities run by 26 contractors; the rates per patient vary according to needs -- from $134 to $415 per day per resident. During the day, these needy clients go to Medicaid-funded treatment programs. The price tag for these programs is $80 million per year, about $112,000 per retarded person.
- Healthy: About 400 retarded residents are considered physically capable of living in community residential facilities. The District contracts with private vendors to run these less-specialized group homes and offer therapeutic services or jobs.
As part of the federal court action that led to Forest Haven's closure, the District guarantees former asylum residents:
- Small, well-kept group homes offering personalized care.
- Day programs providing stimulation, therapy or work opportunities.
- Comprehensive annual assessments of psychological, physical and emotional needs.
- City government caseworkers able to provide individual attention.
- Annual vacations.
Group homes for the retarded are scattered across the region and vary widely in quality, size and cost. But city inspectors have never fined an operator for poor care. In the last four years, the corporation counsel's office, the agency charged with taking legal action against program operators, has filed only a single case, which is pending.
Group homes are supposed to be licensed and inspected annually by the city's Department of Health. But many of the homes for the healthy retarded went unmonitored in 1998, as their inspectors were detailed to day-care centers.
An investigation by The Washington Post shows that in some cases, the city awarded contracts for services to the retarded without scrutinizing the companies' performance in other states or carefully monitoring their operations in the District to ensure the health and safety of the residents.
Washington & Washington
This company is run by Rollie Washington and his wife, Dorothy. In 1996, city inspectors urged that two of their homes be closed because the residents were judged to be in immediate danger from inadequate care. At that time, and for nearly three years afterward, the Washingtons' company wasn't legally authorized to do business in the District, as they had failed to file basic information about the business with the government. Still, the Department of Human Services paid the couple about $4 million over those years to run group homes.
D.C. Family Services
A company owned by dentist Arthur Stubbs and his partner Sheila Gaither operates 14 group homes, including one in which a 57-year-old man died in 1997 after being drugged, and several others where medical neglect has been found. The company was paid $6.3 million in federal funds last year, records show. The city also awarded Stubbs and Gaither a $6.6 million welfare reform contract.
Rolli-Dot Manor Farm
The city paid Rollie and Dorothy Washington $180,000 last year to let retarded residents work as stablehands at their $1 million Maryland "Manor Farm." The Washingtons paid each retarded worker approximately $5 a day to muck stalls and perform other menial tasks. Rollie Washington calls the work "reality therapy."
Brice Warren Corp.
Owner Carl Peterson ran four group homes and received around $2.5 million in Medicaid funds a year to care for 24 clients. Peterson was found guilty in May 1997 of stealing $430,000 in federal funds for the mentally retarded in Ohio. Auditors now can't find the books that show how he spent money the District paid him. His group homes are now operated by a new corporation, RCM, which is owned by Peterson's longtime deputy and his former partner.
Individual Development Inc.
This company collects nearly $9 million in federal funds a year to provide care for the most-impaired mentally retarded. Under its former name, We Care Inc., it declared bankruptcy in 1995 as its officers charged each other with mismanagement of funds and sexual harassment. It is currently out of bankruptcy.
© Copyright 1999
The Washington Post Company
Back to the top