Home > Uncategorized > UPDATE: Ban on mother’s contact with son at least temporarily lifted

UPDATE: Ban on mother’s contact with son at least temporarily lifted

[UPDATE TO YESTERDAY’S POST (BELOW): Cindy Alemesis was informed yesterday (August 30) that the ban on family contact with her intellectually disabled son Nick would be lifted as of today, at the end of a 14-day period specified by Nick’s group home provider and DDS co-guardian (see post below).

However, Cindy also said that in a phone call yesterday, the Incompass group home manager told her the ban on all contact could be re-imposed if Nick continues to display aggressive behaviors. Cindy believes Nick has been acting out because he may have been abused in the group home, and that he wants to leave it.

Cindy said she asked the group home manager whether the ban on family contact was actually a form of punishment of Nick. “I said to him, ‘so, as punishment, Nick loses his mom?’” Cindy said. “And he said, ‘well Nick has to learn.’”

In a text message to Cindy yesterday, the Incompass director of residential services, said Cindy will be allowed to visit Nick at the group home this Saturday. She will also be allowed one 10-minute phone call a day with Nick. But the Incompass director stated that the phone call would be terminated by staff, “if Nick begins displaying unsafe/inappropriate behaviors during the call.”]

 

Cindy Alemesis, who saved her intellectually disabled son Nick’s life in 2018, was subject to a ban on all contact with him for the past two weeks because Nick allegedly began behaving aggressively after her visits and phone calls.

The ban was imposed on August 17 by Incompass Human Services, a Department of Developmental Services (DDS) group home provider, and by a co-guardian of Nick, who is paid by DDS. The Department is, meanwhile, continuing an effort in probate court to remove Cindy as her son’s other co-guardian for reasons that have never been made clear.

Nick Alemesis and his mother Cindy

Cindy believes Nick acts aggressively because he doesn’t want to remain in his group home in Dracut, and may have been abused there. Cindy has reported at least two incidents of injury suffered by Nick in the Incompass residence.

Both Incompass staff and DDS have failed to report those injuries to the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC), as required by law.

Neither DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder nor Jean Phelps, the Incompass CEO, have responded to an email last week from COFAR raising concerns about the ban on contact and the alleged failure to report the injuries.

Similar to past bans on contact

The ban on family contact with Nick is similar to bans imposed in at least two other cases, which led to emotional pain and suffering for DDS clients and their families (see here and here).

As we noted in our email to Ryder and Phelps, cutting off family and social contact with DDS clients is an extreme measure that runs counter to their well being and rights under DDS regulations to support human dignity. Among those fundamental rights is the right to visit and be visited (115 CMR 5.04).

In Nick’s case, the ban on contact also follows from previous restrictions imposed by Donna Nolan, the DDS co-guardian, on Nick’s visits to his church and community.

Reason for latest ban on contact disputed

Records sent to us by Cindy show that Incompass has charged that Nick has engaged in “unsafe and self-injurious behaviors” after visits or phone calls from her and other family members.

In an Incompass document titled, “Human Rights Request for Approval of Restriction,” both Phelps and Nolan signed their approval on August 17 of a 14-day ban on all family communication and visitation with Nick as well as “access to social situations” for Nick. The document, which concerned both family visits to the group home and visits by Nick to Cindy’s home, left open the possibility of extending the ban indefinitely.

The document stated that after speaking with his mother by phone on August 9, Nick threw a phone and later a stone from his bedroom at staff, and refused to take his medications.The document alleged that Nick was taken that day to Lowell General Hospital where he exhibited similar aggressive behaviors after Cindy called him and then visited him there.

The Incompass restriction document, however, did not identify any statements or actions by Cindy or any family members that might have incited Nck to act out. Cindy contends Nick acts out because he does not want to live in the group home, or return to it when he is taken elsewhere.

We would echo Cindy’s concern that conditions in the residence itself may be causing his behaviors and injuries. We think the solution to the problem is to change his residential setting.

Text messages and statements from Nick indicate that he may be afraid of being hurt or injured by staff in the group home. Cindy said Nick has told her that staff have “hurt his head.” Cindy also forwarded a July 28 text message from Caitlyn Alekshun of Bridgewell Counseling Services indicating that there is uncertainty as to why Nick has been agitated and engaging in possibly self-injurious behaviors.

As discussed below, an earlier message from Alekshun to Nick’s service coordinator indicated that the group home staff were not providing timely information to her about the possible cause or causes of Nick’s behavior.

We haven’t seen any records that indicate that either Cindy or other family members have done or said anything to incite Nick to act out or injure himself. In a July 21 email, Nick’s DDS service coordinator wrote that he had “observed Nick become dysregulated. Staff report that it is like this every day.” That would appear to rule out Cindy as the sole, or even main cause of Nick’s behaviors.

However, the August 17 restriction document, signed by Phelps and Nolan, concluded that:

Due to these recent events and to Nicholas’ increasingly unsafe behavioral response to interactions with Cindy, both in person and by phone, it is proposed that Nicholas does not have any communication or contact with family members (including, but not limited to Cindy…) for a period of 14 days. This period of time will allow the program to work more effectively with Nicholas to keep him safe, unencumbered by external stimuli that may significantly impact his ability to regulate his emotions and subsequent behavior.

At the end of this initial 14-day period of no-family contact, the treatment team will revisit this restriction and assess whether continuing the practice is warranted for an additional 14-day period(s).

Staff not providing information to clinician

The restriction document did not make it clear how or why contact with Cindy or other family members would incite Nick to engage in aggressive behaviors. We think that without establishing a clear cause of those behaviors, Incompass has not made a case for restricting family contact.

Nick (right) and his pastor, the Rev. Keith Phemister, and Keith’s wife Gloria. Nick has been restricted at least twice this year from visiting his church.

In fact, records indicate that the group home staff have been uncooperative with at least one clinician seeking to determine the cause of Nick’s aggressive outbursts.

In response to the service coordinator’s July 21 email, Alekshun of Bridgewell wrote that she had requested “recent behavioral data from the residence a few times, but haven’t received anything more recent than May.” Such data, she wrote, might “help justify the need for an inpatient placement” for Nick at a hospital setting.

Failure to report injuries

We are also concerned that DDS and provider staff have failed to report potentially serious injuries that Nick suffered in the group home, as required by law. In the most recent case, Cindy said she was forced to report a head injury that Nick suffered on March 16 to the DPPC because the injury had not been reported by the staff.

Both the DDS Decision Letter and subsequent Action Plan resulting from the March 16 incident stated that the alleged abuser didn’t report the injury.

Cindy said the incident resulted in bleeding from Nick’s ear, which would classify the injury as a serious physical injury under DPPC regulations. Nick received emergency room treatment for the injury.

DDS declines full investigation

After Cindy reported Nick’s March 16 head injury, DDS apparently conducted a limited Administrative Review of the incident. Administrative Reviews do not meet DPPC standards for full investigations. The DDS Decision Letter, issued after the review was completed, acknowledged that a “regulatory investigation” had not been conducted.

Given, in particular, that the bleeding Nick suffered from his ear would classify the injury as serious under DPPC regulations, it would appear that either DPPC or DDS should have conducted a full investigation of the matter, and not an Administrative Review. The DDS Decision Letter did not explain why a full “regulatory investigation” was not done.

The DDS Decision Letter concluded that as a result of the limited review, there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Nick had been abused by a staff member, and that Nick had “acknowledged” his injury had been self-inflicted. However, the Decision Letter did not disclose who was interviewed by the investigator. Cindy said she was not interviewed, and it is not clear whether even Nick was interviewed, based on accounts in the Decision Letter and subsequent DDS Action Plan.

The Action Plan, in fact, stated that, “It was reported by the provider that (Nick) exhibited self-injurious behaviors (SIB) causing injury to himself and was restrained.” (my emphasis). This statement appears to imply that the DDS investigator may have relied on an account from the provider, possibly even from the alleged abuser, in concluding that Nick had injured himself.

Both the Decision Letter and Action Plan said only that “during the course of the investigation witness(es) were interviewed and relevant documents were reviewed.” There was no specificity as to which documents were reviewed, or which witness or witnesses were interviewed. In fact, it isn’t clear, based on the word “witness(es),” whether more than one person was actually interviewed.

DPPC regulations (118 CMR 5.02) require that in full investigations, the investigator interview the reporter of the injury — in this case, Cindy. Cindy said that never happened.

The regulations also require that the investigator provide an assessment of the “immediate protective services needs” of the alleged victim to prevent the risk of further harm. There was no indication in the Decision Letter or Action Plan that such an assessment was done in this case.

The Action Plan recommended only that Nick’s residential and day provider staff “create a communication log that documents such incidents so everyone is informed.”  There was no recommendation in the Action Plan relating to failure of the provider or DDS to report the injury to DPPC.

Similarly, DDS and DPPC declined to undertake an investigation of an incident in 2018 in which Nick contracted sepsis and spent eight months in a hospital because of the apparent negligence of staff in his group home. That incident was also not reported by the provider staff or by DDS to DPPC.

No response from DDS or Incompass

As noted, on August 25, I sent an email to both DDS Commissioner Ryder and to Phelps, the Incompass CEO, noting our concerns about the restriction on family contact and about reports of poor conditions and staff treatment of Nick that led him to state and text to his mother that he did not want to remain there. As such, I wrote, we are concerned the residence is potentially unsafe for Nick. To date, I haven’t received a response to my email.

We urge DDS and Incompass to reconsider the restrictions placed on family contact with Nick. We also urge DDS to conduct a full investigation of the injury that occurred to Nick on March 16, and to investigate the care and conditions in the residence.

Finally, we urge DDS to work with Cindy to identify another residential setting for Nick or a placement in an Intermediate Care Facility such as the Hogan Regional Center.

  1. Karen Brajak
    August 30, 2022 at 11:13 am

    You can add me to the list then. DDS took me to court and assigned a “temporary” guardian which was supposed to be for 3 months so they could have the guardian approve her going to a facility because I would not agree to it because my daughter had gone there before and pleaded with me not to send her back there. My daughter was not very verbal but was very much so on this. She was there less than a month and died. They told me she had a heart attack and I am not surprised because of all the medications they had her on to make it easier for them to manage her. She was only there a few weeks when I got an email that they wanted her disability check signed over to them because that is where she was living now. This was three years ago and my family has never been the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Shawn
    August 30, 2022 at 12:09 pm

    I have known the family for years and Cindy as always loved and looked out for nick this is so sad. I’m praying for them

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gloria
    August 30, 2022 at 12:20 pm

    I pray that they find a good and caring group home for Nick (and others that are abused in the system). Several years ago, I had to fight the system to have my daughter moved out of an abusive Group Home. It was very painful and frustrating, but with the help of caring and knowledgeable people, she is now living in a wonderful caring Group Home.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. August 30, 2022 at 12:42 pm

    Best wishes for Cindy and Nick as they find a place that’s less toxic for him. Good things sure to come ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sara
    August 30, 2022 at 2:40 pm

    I hope this young man and his mother can find peace and comfort away from this horrible situation they find themselves in.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. August 30, 2022 at 2:42 pm

    Nick has the right to live in a safe and healthy environment. He should be admitted to the program at the Hogan Regional Center where his meds can be reviewed and adjusted as necessary, and where he could also be considered for admission if he and his family decide that it is appropriate. Moving to an Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) would guarantee the supervision (medical, nursing, social work, etc.) that is lacking in this group home. This is his right under federal law.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brajak
      August 30, 2022 at 3:19 pm

      Unfortunately that does not work for everyone and my daughter passed away because of it. They were doping her up to control her and would only let me see her on video chat a few hours a week. When I stated she was unusually thirsty, they told me she liked the soda they had there. BS she was dehydrated. She died of a heart attack at age 29.

      Like

  7. Marion Julian
    August 30, 2022 at 4:14 pm

    This appears to be yet another situation where again parent becomes the easy target!
    Instead of looking into various possibilities such as Nick acts up because he misses family, something not positive is happening in the group home, changes in his life, medical reasons, etc., there are numerous possibilities for behavior changes.
    Vendors needs to do the work they get paid for that is taking care of Nick, it appears rather than actually finding the root cause of the issue just take the easy road and attack family. That way they don’t have to do the work or have the staff to resolve issues. This unilateral decision by the vendor/DDS/and a co- guardian who receives income $ from DDS, thereby is not unbiased appears coordinated effort.

    Parents/family are the best advocates for individuals, they deserve respect, and to be listened to, they should never be pushed aside like nothing because the system doesn’t like what they say/see/report! I am thankful I have a state operated home with a team that works cooperatively I can only pray and hope this situation is resolved and I stop hearing of these types of egregious actions!
    We all benefit from cooperation, teamwork and respect for each other.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. itanzman
    August 30, 2022 at 5:33 pm

    DDS does not want to admit that their contracted providers are not doing the right thing & will go to great lengths not to give individuals choices of providers. They should be helping individuals and their families instead of hurting them.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Nancy Crockett
    August 30, 2022 at 6:40 pm

    Inhumane for both mother and especially her son. This makes me so angry.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Karen Ann Faiola
    September 1, 2022 at 11:05 am

    DDS needs to be fixed, it is broken and the very people who are supposed to protect are harming families and special needs people. They have too much control and power without accountability. DDS has become militant and need to be reigned in. They’re not acting in the best interest of the people they serve.

    Like

  11. Marion Julian
    September 1, 2022 at 7:48 pm

    To threaten a Mother, yes if the house manager told her if Nick acts up they again can deny her seeing or talking to HER son, that certainly would be threating to a loving mother. When Mom asks, “so as punishment Nick loses his mom” the house manager says, “Nick has to learn”. This simply shows how they don’t know what the issue is and obviously how to help Nick. Are they not supposed to use Positive Behavior Supports (PBS), as other do? It doesn’t line up with the law and best practices. I question is Nick environmentally safe there.

    There has been no explanation as to why Nick is acting out, because it is unknown at the present time. This is an unsubstantiated allegation and NO evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of the Mom and family. Simply a house manager and an Incompass director decided the Mom was the issue how easy for them. I assume the Mom was an involved Mom, that is not always appreciated by vendors. Makes me wonder if this is retaliation for bringing issues up to the vendor. This is an abuse of power, as I see it power, they legally don’t have. They are hyper focused on over control and under supporting individual (denying loving family-etc.). You cannot punish the mother unless you give the mother full control, she doesn’t have control over the staff or circumstances in that home. They restored Mom phone calls and visitation because her 14-day sentence ended someone that wasn’t convicted of a crime! But let her know they can take it away anytime if they Incompass so choose. They are suppose to be in the business of giving care but when a vendor decides to overthrow others’ rights it has gone way too far.

    I ask is this still America because this is Unamerican to separate families! DDS requires teams and a parent is an important part of those teams, yet this parent is subjected to a very painful unilateral decision by Incompass. This is contrary to the DDS mission/vison, and I hope they take swift and appropriate action to rectify this for Nick, Mom and family. This is scary and DDS needs to intervene swiftly, so we and other private vendors know DDS won’t tolerate treating individuals and families is such dismissive and hurtful way.

    I am not shocked this vendor has not come up with ways to help Nick, not provided options. Not explored more clinical actions, brought in qualified individuals who may provide some good positives to implement, etc., etc., there are options available to help resolve/alleviate/determine what some of the distress that Nick appears to be having. Again, I wonder is Nick safe in that group home environment. Nick needs to find a home that will provide supports and include family. It takes work to help Nick it doesn’t appear Incompass has done that but has taken the road of blaming and dictatorship. No family, loving Mom should have to deal with this type of torment, I am truly appalled at this horrendous action taken by this vendor Incompass.

    Again, I am so thankful for the state operated group home I team with. I will pray Nick and his family will get out of this nightmare as fast as possible.

    Like

    • Karen Ann Faiola
      September 2, 2022 at 12:49 pm

      Marion, You hit the nail on the head! They don’t want to look at the root cause, instead they want to take away rights from the Mother and the son. I’m outraged. I think they are protecting people who our guilty of abuse. DDS took the individual from my home against her will and she is her own guardian. She is back with me, but they have refused to fund her and haven’t sent any money since May. This money was my only income. See our story on the blog.

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