AUSTIN — Texas is failing to protect developmentally disabled residents living in large state facilities, where at least 53 died in the past year from possible lapses in health care, a federal investigation has found.
Deficiencies in staffing put residents in 13 facilities at risk of abuse and neglect, the U.S. Justice Department said in a report to Gov. Rick Perry released Tuesday.
The probe concluded that serious problems and deficiencies in care documented two years ago at Lubbock State School currently exist throughout the facilities where nearly 5,000 vulnerable Texans live.
"We have concluded that numerous conditions and practices at the facilities violate the constitutional and federal statutory rights of their residents," said Grace Chung Becker, an acting assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
The mortality rate for some of the facilities "raises serious concerns regarding the quality of care that facility residents receive," Becker said.
She noted that 114 residents died in the past year, including at least 53 deaths from aspiration, pneumonia, sepsis, bowel obstruction and other "preventable conditions that are often the result of lapses in care or failure to put medical interventions in place in a timely manner."
More than 800 employees have been suspended or fired for abusing residents since 2004, the report said.
State records show 450 confirmed incidents of abuse or neglect in fiscal year 2007.
Many of the facilities' difficulties stem from high attrition rates and vacancies, especially for direct care staff and clinicians, said Becker.
Lawmakers in 2007 appropriated money to hire 1,600 additional workers.
The report will add to the debate at the state Capitol over whether some state schools should be closed and resources shifted to community-based living settings.
Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, said the report "underscores the need here in Texas to move swiftly to consolidating and closing several state schools." He said he will introduce legislation next year to shutter several state schools, though he hasn't yet determined how many.
Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Perry, said the governor does not necessarily advocate reducing the number of institutional beds. "The focus should be on fixing the problems (documented) in the report," she said.
The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, which operates the state schools, is working with the Justice Department to address the violations and avoid litigation, a spokeswoman said.
Although called state schools, the facilities served individuals of all ages who have been diagnosed with mental retardation. Many have other health issues and require frequent monitoring.
Some of the facilities house juveniles who have been placed there by courts following criminal charges, including sexual offenses.
Wouldn't you know it? I just filed a complaint to Dept. of Aging and Disability Services yesterday for suspicion of abuse. This is such a tragedy that such a vulnerable population would be treated so horribly. Those guilty are monsters and will be judged.