A young boy’s brush with death
Ordeal at state school may resonate with lawmakers' debate
By JANET ELLIOTT Austin Bureau
Feb. 9, 2009, 10:38PM
CLOSER LOOK AT STATE SCHOOLS
• 4,700: Number of state school residents
• 159: Number of children under age 18
• 574: Confirmed abuse/neglect cases in a one-year period
• 800: Employees fired or suspended since 2004
• $125,507: State cost per resident
AUSTIN — Less than a week after entering the Lufkin State School for the mentally disabled, 10-year-old Miguel Favela was in an ambulance speeding toward Houston, near death from an overdose of insulin given to him by the medical staff.
Miguel survived. But his life-threatening ordeal — like others — will resonate in the Legislature as lawmakers contend with fixing, or even closing state schools, home to thousands of developmentally disabled adults and children.
Most critical is putting a stop to the abuse and neglect pervasive in some schools. The Department of Family and Protective Services, which investigates complaints, confirmed 574 instances of abuse and neglect in just one 12-month period between September 2007 and August of last year, records show.
Gov. Rick Perry has declared improving the schools a state emergency. The possibilities range from shutting schools to improving employee pay to installing more surveillance cameras.
In Miguel’s case, an internal investigation in June by the Department of Aging and Disability Services, which runs the Lufkin school, found neglect on the part of the medical staff that ordered and administered the insulin.
A doctor was cited for ordering insulin without reviewing Miguel’s admission records or checking with his mother. And a nurse misunderstood the doctor’s verbal order and gave Miguel an insulin dose that was more than three times what had been intended.
Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, whose office also investigated Miguel’s case, said he found a disturbing lack of oversight by DADS officials over the facilities they run in far-flung corners of the state. The doctor, he noted, was cleared to come back to work after his peers concluded the physician had made an honest mistake. “That’s insane,” said Hochberg. “To the extent that the state operates facilities, I think the state absolutely has an obligation to make sure that the care is up to standard.”
In December, a U.S. Justice Department investigation found deadly lapses in health care and systemic civil rights abuses of the roughly 4,700 residents who lived in the state-school system. That, combined with the fact that 800 state school employees have been suspended or fired for abusing residents in Texas state schools since 2004, has forced state officials and lawmakers to make improvements a priority.
Care is also expensive: The state pays for each resident at a cost of $125,507 a year
Other legislation under consideration includes conducting random drug testing on staff members, moving many residents to community homes and creating an ombudsman to deal with family members worried about care.
Miguel’s case also will revive the discussion over whether children should be housed in large facilities. Advocates say state schools are not appropriate settings for children, but a rising number have been placed there due to lack of community programs for behavior therapy.
More than 300 state school residents are age 21 or under, and 159 are younger than 18.
Now 11, Miguel lives at the Brenham State School.
For his mother, Kelly Favela, her son’s ordeal at Lufkin was consuming — it was tough enough to decide to place her son in one of 13 large state-run residential facilities that mainly serve adults.
Favela, a 31-year-old Houston resident and divorced mom, had fought, with the help of Hochberg, to get Miguel into the school because his violent outbursts became too much to handle.
A hospital social worker, she faults the doctor for not attending a treatment meeting when Miguel was admitted.
DADS declined to comment on the case.