Sunday, April 10, 2011

Boston group homes for those with mental illness or addiction abound with violence

From The Boston Herald:

Boston area group homes housing drug addicts and the mentally ill have been lightning rods for court actions involving residents accused of violent eruptions that have resulted in a broken jaw for one staffer, a slashing, a torched home and caretakers being terrorized, a Herald investigation found.

In the wake of the horrific January slaying of a young Revere social worker, the Herald reviewed dozens of lawsuits involving several state-contracted group home providers and found several involving violent Department of Mental Health clients. The findings raise safety concerns for staffers, residents and even neighbors of these homes, which are often tucked into residential neighborhoods.

Several suits allege violent incidents at homes run by Boston’s two largest providers, Vinfen and Bay Cove Human Services, including:

• In 2009, Vinfen evicted an illegal immigrant from a Jamaica Plain house after the man refused to take his medication, was arrested for “abusive” behavior, started a fire and threatened to “break the staff’s necks”;

• In 2002, Bay Cove got a restraining order against a male client with an “extensive history of violence” after he threatened to smash a beer bottle off a caretaker’s head, accosted staffers while under the influence of cocaine and marijuana, and was hauled off in an ambulance after he stripped naked on a Jamaica Plain street;

• In 2007, Vinfen got a restraining order against a Roxbury group home resident who used racially charged threats against a roommate, stabbed a door with a knife and sprayed a fire extinguisher;

• In 2003, a Bay Cove resident allegedly burned down a Revere group home, torching his bed with matches because he was reprimanded for giving porn to another man, a police report states;

• In 2008, Vinfen got a restraining order against a “dangerous” client who broke a staffer’s jaw and threatened employees; and

• In March 2010, Bay Cove booted a client from a Roxbury group home after he sliced his roommate’s finger with a knife during a fight over loud music and threatened to smash the roommate’s head with a brick.

Group home providers don’t run criminal background checks on prospective residents and the DMH also does not conduct Criminal Offender Records Information checks on clients.

A blue-ribbon panel convened by DMH Commissioner Barbara Leadholm after the Jan. 20 slaying of Revere group home worker Stephanie Moulton is mulling whether criminal screenings should be done. The panel is also probing staffing levels and training.

Bay Cove president Stan Connors said: “The safety of our work force and those whom we serve has always been, and continues to be, one of our highest priorities.” He added that staffers use an “on-call” system to deal with “unsafe” situations and undergo regular training with the state.

Vinfen spokeswoman Donna Rheaume said: “The safety of our staff is of paramount importance. Vinfen does extensive assessments, and we get information from clients, family, other agencies. We work very hard to make sure the appropriate plans are in place.”

DMH Deputy Commissioner Marcia Fowler said clients are placed in group homes based on specific needs after a “joint risk assessment” between the agency and the provider. Most facilities have round-the-clock staffing and many employ doctors or nurses.

“All of our community programs are required by contract to have safety protocols in place,” Fowler said. “We recognize we have some clients that pose unique challenges. It’s incumbent on the providers to make sure staff is adequately trained.”

The state Department of Mental Health spends $220 million annually on 12,000 clients who live in more than 400 “group living environment” facilities operated by private companies.

Clients can be referred to the DMH through courts or hospitals, and DMH caseworkers decide whether the person qualifies for services.