Archive for November, 2013

DDS challenge to mother’s guardianship of her son dismissed

November 25, 2013 1 comment

The mother of an intellectually disabled man, who has been locked in a dispute with the Department of Developmental Services for several years over her son’s medical needs, will be able to remain as his guardian, according to a probate court agreement reached last week.

A Middlesex County Probate Court judge last week signed off on the dismissal of a year-long effort by the DDS to remove Patricia Feeley as guardian of her 27-year-old son, Michael.  DDS had filed a petition in probate court in November 2012 to appoint James Feld, an attorney, as Michael’s guardian, even though Feld had never met Michael.

The DDS’s long-running dispute with Feeley, a COFAR Board member, has centered around Feeley’s contention that Michael, who has type 1 diabetes, needs a residential care setting with 24-hour nursing.  Feeley has been trying for years to find a suitable residential placement for her son, who has lived at home his entire life.  DDS has taken the position that Michael doesn’t need round-the-clock nursing.

DDS signed a stipulation to dismiss its challenge to Feeley’s guardianship during a probate court hearing last week, according to Stephen Sheehy, an attorney representing Feeley. Sheehy said he believed that DDS “came to the hearing prepared to dismiss the case because they recognized that Pat (Feeley) was doing a good job as Michael’s guardian and this was not a proper forum to deal with a dispute over a (residential) placement.”

In filing its original petition to remove Feeley as guardian, DDS had argued that Feeley was not acting in her son’s best interest in rejecting residential placements for him that the Department had offered.  The Department’s petition also cited  excessive “clutter” in Feeley’s home as a reason for removing Feeley as guardian.  However, DDS did not allege any neglect or abuse on Feeley’s part, and even acknowledged she is devoted to her son.

Feeley said this week that she was glad of the dismissal of the guardianship challenge and hopeful “that somehow Michael will be offered a placement appropriate to his needs.  He has been waiting for six years.”  She added that, “I hope DDS will realize and take this (dismissal of the guardianship petition) as an affirmation that Michael’s needs are Michael’s needs. That’s what this is all about, not what DDS wants.”

Feeley added that DDS has never produced a clinical document to back up its contention that Michael does not need 24-hour nursing care.  Feeley, however, did provide the court with a May 28, 2010 letter from a physician at Children’s Hospital in Boston, who wrote that Michael’s blood glucose spikes at times “for no apparent reason,” and that “it is not possible to predict when that might occur.”  The doctor’s assessment continued that, “A nurse needs to be present and able to attend to Michael’s needs at any time to avoid a delay in Mike receiving appropriate medical intervention.”

Feeley said her son requires as many as seven injections of insulin per day.  He also has a profound intellectual disability, is non-verbal and is unable to dress or bathe himself.  Feeley, 65, who works as a part-time clinical lab technician and is a certified nurse assistant, currently administers the injections herself, monitors Michael’s blood glucose, and personally provides all other care at home for him.  Michael’s extensive care needs have prevented her from working full time.

We are happy that DDS has finally realized it brought its dispute with Pat Feeley over the care of her son to the wrong judicial forum.  Why DDS subjected Feeley to a frightening, year-long battle to retain guardianship and why the Department subjected taxpayers to the expense of an unnecessary probate court battle are troubling questions.

Based on what is apparently the only clinical document submitted in the case — the letter from the Children’s Hospital doctor — Michael does appear to need 24-hour nursing.   We hope the outcome of this guardianship challenge finally spurs DDS to do the right thing and find a placement appropriate to Michael’s needs.

The system continues to fail the most vulnerable in the Templeton case

November 19, 2013 Leave a comment

It seems that as events unfold in the wake of the alleged fatal assault of an intellectually disabled man at the Templeton Developmental Center in September, the system continues to fail everyone it was intended to protect.

Last week, Anthony Remillard was found competent to stand trial in connection with the death of  Dennis Perry whom Remillard allegedly assaulted while both were in the Templeton Center’s dairy barn.  As of this week, Remillard was being held without bail in the Worcester County House of Corrections.

We’ve already written here a number of times about our concern that Remillard was inappropriately placed at Templeton due to his apparently high level of dangerousness, and was not under sufficiently close supervision while there.  However, given that Remillard is himself intellectually disabled, it seems to us that the Worcester County House of Corrections is an equally inappropriate place for this 22-year-old man.

Bonnie Valade is the mother of Tony Welcome, a Templeton resident who has himself had some previous scrapes with the criminal justice system and spent time at the same county jail facility now housing Anthony Remillard.  She maintains that jail was wrong for her son, who she said was abused there, and will be equally wrong for Remillard.  In an email, Valade had this to say:

My son was badly beaten (at the Worcester County House of Corrections)  simply because he put his arm around an inmate saying ‘hello.’  The other inmates took everything we brought for him including his radio. He was sexually abused.  They put him in a suicide cell just to keep him away from the population.  If anyone knows about a suicide cell…it contains nothing not even clothes, only their underwear.

People with intellectual disabilities need clinical and other therapeutic services.  They don’t tend to receive those services when they end up in correctional facilities.  And they do end up in correctional facilities more often, it seems, than people of normal intelligence.

A recent article on the website notes that intellectually disabled people constitute “a small but growing percentage” of suspects and offenders within the American criminal justice system. While they comprise between 2 and 3 percent of the general population in the country, they represent between 4 and 10 percent of the population in prison and an even larger portion of the population in juvenile facilities and jails.

Intellectually disabled people like Anthony Remillard and Tony Welcome need to be in places that provide them with supportive supervision, structure, and security.  In many key respects, prisons provide none of those things.  It’s hard to imagine that the behavioral issues that Anthony Remillard apparently had that led to the alleged assault on Dennis Perry are going to be dealt with in a positive way where he is now.  And the fact that he has been found competent by a judge to stand trial in the alleged fatal assault means he could end up in prison for the rest of his life.

As has been pointed out by others in this case, the system failed Dennis Perry, and now it is failing Anthony Remillard.  In both cases, it does not appear that sufficient supportive supervision, structure, or security were or are being provided.

Unfortunately, we see the potential for more of these systemic failures as Massachusetts and many other states continue to cut staffing at facilities such as Templeton, which currently meet strict federal standards of care.  We’ve asked for a legislative hearing to examine, among other things, whether a major phase-down in staffing at Templeton in recent years resulted in the apparent failure to adequately supervise Remillard there.

Templeton and countless other facilities like it are being closed around the country in the name of deinstitutionalization.  The closure process has not resulted in better lives for everyone, however.  We are creating a largely privatized system of care in this country that in many respects provides less supervision, structure, and security than before.

Even the most ardent proponents of privatized, community-based care acknowledge that the community system isn’t working very well.  In a recent op-ed piece, the president of the Massachusetts Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, referred to the “funding disaster that has governed private programs” that now serve most of the people with disabilities in the state.   The quality of the care provided by these private programs reflects that funding disaster.  The programs are rife with poorly trained and poorly compensated staff and with the consequent problem of abuse and neglect.

And what then happens to the Anthony Remillard’s who are caught up in a system of care that cannot adequately serve them or protect others from them?  In more and more instances, they end up in a much worse institutional system — the prison system.

It is now well known that deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill since the 1960’s has led to a continued increase in the population of mentally ill people in the nation’s prison system.  We are only starting to realize that the same thing is happening with respect to people with intellectual disabilities.

Update: new claims cast doubt on a cover-up of alleged assault at Templeton

November 13, 2013 10 comments

Many concerns have been raised about the state’s oversight of care of the developmentally disabled in the wake of the alleged fatal assault of Dennis Perry on September 16 at the Templeton Developmental Center.

But a failure to notify investigating authorities about the incident may not be one of those issues.

It seems there is some disagreement between the Worcester County DA’s office and the Disabled Persons Protection Commission as to when and by whom the DA was notified of the alleged assault.  The assault was allegedly committed by Anthony Remillard, a resident at Templeton who had been admitted there despite an apparent record of previous assaults and other crimes.

As you may know, The Worcester Telegram reported on October 27 that the DA’s office was never notified by Templeton Center officials about the alleged assault of Perry, and only learned of it from the chief state medical examiner’s office.  Paul Jarvey, a spokesman for the DA’s office, confirmed that account to me after the Telegram & Gazette story  broke and again when I spoke with him on November 6.  He said it was only after Perry died on September 27 that the chief state medical examiner contacted Templeton Police who then contacted the state police detective unit attached to the DA’s office.

As a result, I posted here on October 30, asking whether the Patrick administration covered up a serious crime at a Department of Developmental Services facility.

However, Emil DeRiggi, DPPC deputy executive director, emailed me on November 6 that the DPPC was in fact notified of the alleged assault on September 17, one day after the incident occurred.  DeRiggi later contended that according to the DPPC’s database, the DPPC’s state police unit notified the Worcester DA’s office that same day – September 17 – about the alleged assault.

Sgt. Timothy Grant of the DPPC state police unit said to me yesterday that he has a copy of a September 17 email that his office sent to the DA about the alleged assault, along with a copy of the DPPC intake form regarding the incident. Thus, according to the DPPC’s account, the Worcester DA was notified about the alleged assault  one day after it occurred, and at least 10 days earlier than the Worcester DA claims to have been notified.  DeRiggi said he could not reveal who notified the DPPC about the alleged assault.

So, while it is not absolutely clear who reported the case, it would seem that if the DPPC’s account of the manner and timing of the notification is correct, it would have been impossible for DDS to have covered the matter up.

On November 6,  Jarvey had told me he could not comment on the DPPC’s assertion that the DPPC had been notified of the incident on September 17th.  When I called him yesterday morning to discuss Sgt. Grant’s claim that the DPPC’s state police unit notified the DA of the alleged assault on September 17, Jarvey said he would “double check” the DA’s records and get back to me.

I sent an email yesterday to DDS Commissioner Elin Howe, asking whether she would comment on whether and when DDS notified either the DPPC or the DA, or both, about the alleged incident.

I would note that none of this addresses the DA’s additional claim that Templeton administrators also failed to report the alleged assault directly to the DA, as required by law.  And it does not address an alleged failure by DDS to report an incident eight months earlier in which Remillard allegedly assaulted a Templeton staff worker.  That incident was supposed to have been reported to the district court judge who had ordered Remillard sent to Templeton.

In any event, as we’ve said before about this case, there are many other questions and concerns about DDS’s management and oversight that are raised by this case — in particular, why Remillard was admitted to Templeton and whether the supervision of him there was adequate.

In a November 7 letter sent to Bonnie Valade, the mother of a Templeton resident, Howe said the circumstances surrounding the assault of Perry and the process under which Remillard was admitted to Templeton are under review by DDS.  Howe maintained in the letter that while staffing at Templeton  has been reduced in recent years as the residential population there has been phased down, the ratios of staff-to-residents are currently at “the highest level they have ever been.”

Howe’s letter added that:  “(Templeton) has been an excellent program and has supported individuals with challenging behaviors successfully for many years.”  She maintained that the center’s residential admissions practices “have remained consistent historically including throughout the closure period.”

All of that may be the case, but, as Valade has pointed out, many of the best and most experienced staff at Templeton have left the center since it was marked for closure by the administration in 2008.   Despite the rosy cast that Howe’s letter has placed on the staffing and admissions situation at Templeton, the fact that an intellectually disabled man was assaulted and killed, allegedly by a resident at the center who was supposedly under close supervision, indicates that something is wrong there.

We believe an independent and comprehensive review of the circumstances surrounding Dennis Perry’s death is needed, and have asked the Legislature’s Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee to conduct that review and hold a hearing as part of it.

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