Home > Uncategorized > Guardians looking for answers in DDS client deaths

Guardians looking for answers in DDS client deaths

The guardians of two intellectually disabled men in their 50s are grappling with the mystery of why each man died suddenly in the past two months in state-operated group homes in the Department of Developmental Services’ northeast region.

Neither guardian yet wants either their name or the name of their ward to be publicly revealed, but both guardians are trying to find out what happened to their wards.

One of the guardians, who I’ll call Anna,  said her uncle, who was 54, was healthy when he was transferred on July 20 from his long-time home at the Templeton Developmental Center to the group home in Tewksbury.  He died four days later. 

In that case, the Chief Medical Examiner listed the cause of death of Anna’s uncle as a blood clot of unknown origin in his lung.   But Anna, who is a former nurse’s aide, is not convinced that the listed cause of death is correct.  She said the Medical Examiner’s report is inconclusive and the Medical Examiner is still waiting for toxicology results.  

Anna said her uncle had had a blood clot in his leg about a year before the move (deep venous thrombosis), but the problem was cleared up.  Other than that, the only problems he had was a hernia and he was going blind in one eye.  He had worked every day in the dairy barn at Templeton. 

After the thrombosis diagnosis, Anna’s uncle had been on a blood thinner called Coumadin, but he was then taken off that medication at Templeton without Anna’s knowledge or consent, even though she is his guardian.  It’s not clear, though, that that contributed to his death.  There may have been an error involving some other medication that he was taking. 

Anna said the staff from the group home had spent about a week at Templeton with her uncle prior to the move, but she is not sure whether any familiar staff from Templeton accompanied him during the transfer to the new residence.  She said, though, that her uncle had been active after the move and had told her he was happy and excited to be there.  The residence is brand new and is beautiful, she said.  Suddenly, four days later, she got a call that he had died.  She has no idea how that could have happened.

State Senator Stephen Brewer of Barre has asked DDS to investigate the death of Anna’s uncle, and has asked that further transfers to the Tewksbury group home be halted until the investigation is complete.

In the second case, a former Fernald Developmental Center resident swallowed a plastic garbage bag in a group home in Tyngsborough on June 21 and was taken to Lowell General Hospital, where he underwent surgery.  He died approximately two weeks later on July 6.  The cause of death is listed as aspiration pneumonia.  The 50-year-old  man had been living in the group home for about a year.

The man’s sister, who we’ll call Nancy, had been his guardian.  She said she is concerned that the staff at the Tyngsborough group home wasn’t properly supervising her brother, who had a tendency to ingest foreign objects, a condition known as pica.  “Someone wasn’t paying attention,” she said.

Nancy said she would like to push for a bill in the Legislature that would prohibit staff in group homes from holding second jobs.  She heard this was the case in Kevin’s group home, and that there were staff there who weren’t getting enough sleep.

Both of these guardians are dealing with the still fresh grief of the loss of their loved ones.  We offer them and their families our deepest sympathy and our condolences.  We hope they get the answers they are looking for and will continue to try to help them do so.

  1. Ed
    August 13, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    It is not only the level of care available in community group homes, or the training, oversight or supervision of employees that these deaths bring into question. It is also the issue of disclosure by the Department of Developmental Disabilities. Confidentiality policies are necessary, yes, but when questionable circumstances are involved, families, guardians and advocates deserve answers. Even under ordinary circumstances, Advocacy Network, Inc., a COFAR affiliate, has for years been seeking — unsuccessfully — simple notification of deaths from DDS so that we may pay proper respect and convey condolences to our members. That information is not forthcoming.


  2. sues
    August 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    These stories are so tragic and for some of us our worst fears coming true.


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