EARLIER THIS YEAR, there were the deaths, under unusual circumstances, of two residents of D.C. Village, the District's home for the aged. One died from scalding bath water. The other was found frozen to death beside her overturned wheelchair outside her building. Living conditions there were said to include roach and mice infestation and inadequate care for helpless residents.
More recently, a report by the Health Research Group, a lobbying and advocacy organization, said that there are some 1,200 homeless people in D.C. who are believed to be schizophrenic and have been left to exist in the city's shelters or on the grates. It focused on a schizophrenic woman who was abruptly discharged from St. Elizabeths Hospital and told to go to a public shelter. "Given the psychiatric manpower and monetary resources available in Washington, the existing mental health services for the city's mentally ill homeless are a disgrace," the report said.
And now, in a Post story by Margaret Engel, we are told that a female patient of the Wisconsin Avenue Nursing Home was suffering from dehydration and rushed to a hospital in 1984. She died 17 hours later. D.C. inspectors had visited the home on two occasions in late 1983 and early 1984. They found that the facility was understaffed and that patients were improperly dressed and left unattended. The inspectors also found that patients were not receiving the special diets their doctors had ordered. But the city took no action against the home.
The city's Service Facility Regulation Administration, which is responsible for making the inspections, has only 29 inspectors. Their duty is to monitor health and safety standards at the 1,255 nursing homes, boarding homes, child day-care centers, hospitals and group homes for the mentally retarded that are located in the District. Inspection reports show repeated instances in which patients and residents have been subjected to roach infestation, scaldings and abuse. But we are also told that such conditions are allowed to go on for weeks, months and even years before they are dealt with.
There have been too many recent indications that the District's care of its most helpless people is seriously deficient. First, the number of inspectors the city has is too small effectively to monitor the 1,255 care facilities in the city. Second, the inspections they do make should be unannounced. Third, violations reported by the inspectors have to be corrected quickly. Fourth, follow-up inspections could make sure that those same problems do not recur.
These facilities are the only settings in which many of the elderly, the retarded and the handicapped can live. The city has an obligation to make certain that their living conditions are as safe and decent as possible.