A settlement between the state of Texas and the U.S. Department of Justice in 2009 should have at least started showing signs of improvement at 13 State Supported Living Centers, home to hundreds of residents with severe developmental disabilities. But according to the state’s federally designated watchdog agency for Texans with disabilities, not much has changed. “It’s still deplorable,” Beth Mitchell, supervising attorney for the advocacy group Disability Rights Texas, told QueQue. Although Texas agreed to comply with some 171 provisions to ensure residents mental and physical health and safety by 2013, the most recent Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services monitoring report, dated October 22 but released to the public last week, shows the San Antonio State Supported Living Center, like 12 others across the state, is far from meeting those goals. Most troubling, Mitchell says, is the high number of complaints of abuse and neglect that continue unabated. In San Antonio’s report, DADS monitors reported 95 such cases, 22 percent of which were confirmed between February and late July of 2011, including 10 cases of physical abuse, one of emotional and verbal abuse, and another 16 cases of neglect. (Forty-three percent of cases were unconfirmed, 19 percent deemed inconclusive, and other 10 percent were referred back to the facility for reporting problems, the monitoring report shows.) Among the confirmed cases: one center employee dragged a resident across the floor by his belt. In another instance, an employee “physically attacked an individual by grabbing him by the neck, slamming him into the closet, then throwing him to the floor,” state monitors wrote. Monitors also noted 23 serious injuries between February and late July 2011, during which five residents died at the San Antonio Center.
Federal investigators started looking into Texas’ state-supported living centers after the DOJ wrote a scathing report in 2006 on the state’s Lubbock facility, noting that 17 residents had died in nearly as many months. Two years later, DOJ investigated all 13 centers, and eventually threatened legal action if Texas didn’t agree to a settlement. And Mitchell fears the problem may be deeper than just the cases confirmed in state reports. “A lot of times you can’t confirm cases because you have individuals that simply can’t communicate,” she said. For instance, in 2009 seven staffers at the Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center were fired for forcing disabled residents into staged fights at the facility. The workers were only caught when police discovered a lost cell phone with videos of the fights. “Some of the issues [monitors] are identifying are very significant, serious issues,” said Mitchell. “You’ve got people with chronic diseases who don’t have appropriate lab monitoring and medication use. … Do you know how quickly you can spiral down if you don’t get the appropriate lab work? And these are individuals who can’t necessarily communicate when they’re starting to feel bad.”