Tuesday, July 15, 2008

People with mental disabilities say they prefer homes over institutions

From The Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau:

Texas is failing to follow the wishes of many mentally disabled residents who say they want to leave large state institutions for smaller, community-based homes, an audit issued Monday found.

The report faulted the Department of Aging and Disability Services for failing to provide alternative living options for 449 residents of the state schools during the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31.

The vast majority of those — 91 percent — expressed a preference for community living options, although some wanted to move to a different state school or different dormitory at the same facility.

Those 449 represented 70 percent of 644 residents who expressed a preference for an alternative living situation.

Auditors also identified 10 state school employees, including nine direct care workers, who were listed in a state misconduct registry as unemployable due to prior acts of abuse and neglect. When their names were brought to the agency's attention, all were fired.

Cecilia Fedorov, a spokeswoman for DADS, said the agency has begun annual checks of the employee misconduct registry and annual criminal background checks on all employees who work with residents. Employees also can be subjected to drug testing at any time the agency suspects drug use, she said.

Additionally, the audit said the agency should document its discussions about living options with the state school residents as well as record the reasons that community care isn't offered.

"'Documenting the consumers' awareness of living options is significant, given the fact that 52 percent of state school consumers had expressed no preference for specific living arrangements as of the end of fiscal year 2007," the audit said.

Fedorov said the agency has been moving more residents out of state schools. Also, a new law that took effect in January charged county mental retardation centers with presenting living alternatives to state school residents.

Through April, those local coordinators have met with more than 1,200 state school residents or their guardians.

Advocacy groups have long called for the state to close at least some of the schools and shift resources into providing more community-based care, which can include small group homes or placement with roommates who can assist those with less severe mental disabilities.

Other groups comprised of relatives of state school residents say the facilities provide a safe, enriching environment and should remain open.