A D.C. Council member requested copies yesterday of investigations into the deaths of mentally retarded residents who were in the care of the District's group homes.
Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), chairman of the council's Committee on Human Services, also scheduled an emergency oversight hearing because of concerns about how the group homes are operated.
Fenty sought investigative reports and other records from the city's Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration. The request came in the wake of a court monitor's report that found that one woman and three men with special health risks have died since November 2004 because they did not receive timely and competent care. The monitor attributed the deaths to serious neglect in the group homes and shoddy oversight by the city.
"The records should be made available," Fenty said in an interview. "We're a government. If you don't shine light on the government, then you won't get good performance."
Fenty, whose panel oversees the Department of Human Services, which includes the mental retardation administration, said he wanted to explore several issues involved in the care of some of the city's most vulnerable residents. He requested the materials in a letter and e-mail.
He plans to hold what he called "an emergency roundtable discussion," tentatively scheduled for Dec. 15, that will seek testimony about group home operations from city officials and Elizabeth Jones, the court monitor in a long-running federal lawsuit against the District. The suit centers on the quality of care for the mentally retarded, many of whom also have severe physical disabilities.
A Nov. 3 report by Jones said that the city has been warned repeatedly about problems in getting appropriate health care to group home residents. The entire report has not been made public. A redacted version -- which, for privacy reasons, did not identify those who died -- was filed at the courthouse.
D.C. officials had promised to make reforms in 1999, after a series of articles in The Washington Post disclosed 350 documented cases of abuse and neglect in the city's group homes. After the series, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) set up a committee to review fatalities in the group homes. That panel works with an independent contractor that investigates the deaths and writes up its findings. The court monitor reviewed some of its investigations in preparing her recent report.
Fenty, in a letter yesterday to Marsha Thompson, interim director of the mental retardation administration, sought additional information about the group homes and the city employees who oversee them. He asked Thompson for a summary of her plan to improve the work of city case managers who visit the homes. He also requested details about any sanctions taken against contractors and agency employees "who fail to provide proper oversight to ensure the safety and well being" of group home residents.
In her report, Jones said the city's case managers had done a poor job of safeguarding the care of individual residents. Two of the people who died lived in the same home.
District officials said they have shut down that group home and are moving other mentally and physically disabled residents out of problem-filled facilities.
At a hearing in the lawsuit Monday, Thompson, who became interim director of the agency in April, said she is requiring case managers to provide a daily log of their activities. She also plans to increase the number of mandatory visits to group home residents from eight to 12 a year.
In an interview Tuesday, Thompson said she took the court monitor's report seriously. She said that she was making personnel changes but that she was not able to publicly discuss them.
"There are consequences" for poor performance, she said.
The Post has requested copies of investigations concerning deaths at group homes in recent years, with the identities of the deceased deleted. The Department of Human Services has rejected the requests, citing confidentiality concerns.