THE CITY'S promised assessment of agencies that deal with mental retardation and developmental disabilities is in, and as a result six top managers are out, two others are on administrative leave pending further investigation, and plans have been developed to restructure the agencies top to bottom. The inquiry was ordered following a Post report of deaths, cover-up, abuse and neglect in the city's group homes. The review, carried out for the mayor by his deputy for children and families, confirmed what The Post found earlier: a service delivery system so "highly dysfunctional" that it fails to "execute its mission at [the] most basic level."
The reasons for the dysfunction are all too familiar. Some key positions were filled for years with unqualified and untrained managers and supervisors. Workers were holding down jobs without any determination of whether they had the skills and training to perform them. Background checks on service providers and their workers were nonexistent. Basic policies and procedures were lacking, and those that existed weren't followed. The assessment also discovered shocking incidents of mistreatment. They include examples of people with disabilities "being forced into sexual situations against their will"; "not being allowed privacy for toileting"; "being yelled at"; and "being medicated for reasons that appear more for the convenience of provider staff."
Before group homes, there was the District's infamous Forest Haven facility for people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities, which closed in 1992. The report to the mayor concluded that the closing and deinstitutionalization only resulted in the creation of "mini-Forest Havens" in the District. But a disturbing aspect of this problem, not touched on in the report, is that the deterioration of service occurred over a span of several years on the watch of two past mayors and a host of past and current council members.
As elected leaders, they were charged with oversight responsibility. Instead, they annually reviewed and blithely funded a system that had collapsed. Yesterday, in announcing his shakeup and a new management team, Mayor Williams said, "This is the kind of mismanagement that has systematically eroded the public's confidence in District government over the past 20 years." It will take more than bold declarations to turn the system around, but at least the rebuilding has begun.