Friday, June 26, 2009

Head of agency that oversees troubled Texas institutions for people with intellectual disabilities to retire

From The AP:

AUSTIN — The head of the Texas agency in charge of the state’s troubled institutions for the mentally disabled announced June 25 that she is retiring effective Aug. 31.

Adelaide Horn has been commissioner of the Department of Aging and Disability Services since February 2006.

"Commissioner Horn has been a tireless advocate for Texans with disabilities," said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

"We are grateful for her service on behalf of the state of Texas and, in particular, our most vulnerable citizens," Nelson said.

Horn was director of long-term-care services at the state Health and Human Services Commission before being named first deputy commissioner of DADS. She was put in charge of the agency on Feb. 1, 2006.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins praised Horn’s "strong leadership on behalf of individuals who need her agency’s services, no matter the setting or disability."

About 4,600 people live in 13 state-supported living centers that were known as state schools until June when Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that changed the name.

The institutions were subject to a federal civil-rights review over reports of abuse and neglect of the mentally disabled.

A 2008 report outlined widespread mistreatment of residents.

Dozens of people have died under questionable circumstances, and hundreds of employees have been disciplined for mistreating residents.

State lawmakers recently reached a five-year, $112 million settlement with the Justice Department that requires the state to improve living conditions and medical care.

The Legislature also passed new security measures at the centers.

Perry signed the bill, which requires video surveillance in common areas.

It also gives new powers to the state Office of Inspector General to help local prosecutors pursue cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation. Staffers would be subject to drug tests and criminal-background checks.

At least one advocate for the disabled sharply criticized Horn’s tenure.

"Commissioner Horn is ultimately responsible for the operations of state institutions in Texas and has failed miserably in this regard. Her retirement ends an era of arrogance and gross negligence in the management of the safety and civil rights of our most vulnerable Texans," said Jeff Garrison-Tate of the advocacy group Community Now!, which has called for Texas to close the large institutions.