A state investigation in a state-owned and operated small group home in Rome, New York, revealed an infestation of maggots crawling around a breathing tube of a disabled patient. In many states, details of abuse and neglect investigations in state-regulated institutions for the disabled are almost never made public, according to U.S. News.
A 41-year-old severely disabled man lay helpless against the silent invaders. He was unable to walk, talk, or feed himself after suffering severe brain trauma in a 1991 car crash. He depends on a ventilator to breathe ever since he was involved in the car accident 26 years ago.
Emergency Room Intervention
When the slimy, wriggling clump that was growing around the hole in his throat was discovered, he was brought to an emergency room, where a state investigation found days of neglect by caretakers. It is alleged that if The Associated Press had not obtained the confidential report on the case, it is unlikely this incident would have been revealed to anyone in the outside world.
It is alarming to surmise that it is easier to check the health record of a neighborhood restaurant than to find out about lapses in care in group homes and state institutions that people may be considering for their loved ones’ around-the-clock care.
Lack of Transparency
“If a complaint is substantiated, there should be a pretty detailed report … but you cannot get that information,” said Robyn Grant, director of public policy at the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, a Washington-based advocacy group.
Many states provide extensive information about nursing homes and hospitals, Grant said, but most are relatively silent when it comes to data on care of the disabled in state-regulated facilities.
National law firm Parker Waichman LLP has extensive experience and success in representing clients in neglect or abuse in healthcare litigation. Attorneys at the firm are available to answer questions for any individuals seeking legal information for a potential lawsuit.
Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs
In New York, which has one of the country’s largest disabled-care systems, abuse and neglect probes are overseen by the state’s Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs. William Reynolds, a spokesman for the Center said it cannot release detailed information on its cases, even with identifying material removed, because of state and federal rules involving medical and personnel privacy.
Some advocates for the disabled and some lawmakers say the Justice Center is keeping too much information concealed, perhaps to protect the flow of billions in Medicaid dollars to a sprawling system responsible for about one million disabled, addicted, and mentally ill people.
Comptroller DiNapoli Speaks Out
It is a system so tightly closed that State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli was stonewalled this year when he attempted to audit the Justice Center. He obtained only eight percent of the reports requested on the 82,000 abuse and neglect complaints between 2013 and 2016. “What’s troubling is this cloud of secrecy that seems to cover their operations,” said DiNapoli, “So, you don’t know if they’re doing the job that they’re expected to do.”
Last year, 4,169 cases of abuse or neglect in public and private care regulated by the state were substantiated. Getting details, even by the Freedom of Information request, is difficult. It apparently took advocates eight months to get a “bare-bones” listing of the numbers of deaths and sexual assaults listed by facility over a two and a half-year period.
In the absence of publicly available information, Leslie Morrison, director of investigations for the advocacy group Disability Rights California, recommends families do their own investigating. “Go visit the facility. There’s nothing better than walking around, doing a sniff test, doing it unannounced,” she said. “If you can get in the door, that is. If you can’t get in the door, that might suggest something to me also.”
In the case of the upstate New York facility where the maggot infestation was found, state investigators said this was the result of several days of neglect by caretakers who were supposed to keep the tracheostomy clean. Officials at the Justice Center said the six-month investigation could not pinpoint employees at fault, so no one was punished. Instead, increasing training on the care of tracheostomies, was suggested and state officials confirmed it was done. The 41-year-old patient is currently being cared for in another facility, according to ABC News.
How Maggots Develop
Maggots are normally associated with filth, since flies deposit their eggs on dead or decaying tissue. The facility offered alternative explanations to how the infestation happened as the patient was frequently taken outside, and no evidence was found in the eight-resident group home of unsanitary conditions.
According to The New York Times, Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, of Utica, stated that he is asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the group home and other state-regulated facilities for the disabled where there have been allegations of abuse and neglect. “It’s clear from seeing this that New York State cannot be relied on to police itself,” Brindisi said. “When you have thousands of cases (of abuse and neglect) happening across the state – this being one of the most egregious – we must give some reassurance to families that their loved ones are being taken care of.”
Legal Help for Healthcare Facility Concerns
If you or someone you know has been injured by abuse or neglect in a healthcare facility, you may have valuable legal rights. Parker Waichman LLP offers free, no-obligation case evaluations. We urge you to contact our personal injury attorneys at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).