It’s a track record that can’t be tolerated.
Data compiled from 2016 inspections of Washington’s four state-run residential habilitation centers (RHCs)--including Rainier School in Buckley--detail shocking accounts of abuse and neglect toward developmentally disabled residents.
The 2016 reports read like documents from the 19th century when people with Down syndrome, autism, or other disabilities were isolated in asylums and often neglected.
The state’s own surveyors reported 257 allegations of injuries with origins unknown, 25 accident allegations, and 16 reports on the misuse of seclusion and restraints both physical and chemical.
In November of 2016, a staff member at the Rainier School sexually assaulted a female resident. An investigation revealed later that several other residents had allegedly been raped by the same staff member. The accused awaits trial in the Pierce County jail.
Employees at Rainier School said training on how to identify sexual trauma in nonverbal adults was never administered.
At that same institution, in the span of less than two years, two residents choked to death, and a man nearly drowned during a lake trip. A staff member left him alone on a dock strapped into his wheelchair. When he fell into the water, he was unable to free himself.
The report also detailed how staff at the Lakeland Village facility near Spokane withheld food to “manage” behavior. The plan called for staff to “only provide diet supplements” if they saw the resident come out of his room.
Nurses at other facilities worked with expired licenses.
In 2015 and 2016, federal experts found so many violations, ones that included leaving residents strapped to toilets or exploiting them financially, they froze federal funding for new admissions. The Developmental Disabilities Administration, which oversees operations, is given 11 months to get back into compliance.
Washington is one of only 13 states still operating large institutions for people with developmental disabilities. Oversight authority lies with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
Surveys are conducted every 15 months; when an infraction occurs, the facility in question responds with a “Plan of Correction,” an inadequate method of accountability considering the ongoing problems with safety and substandard therapeutic conditions.
Don Clintsman, a top DSHS official charged with overseeing the state RHCs, said corrections have been implemented. He also mentioned the facilities are crumbling. “Some of the buildings are 50, 60 and 70 years old.” He’d like to see real investment coming from the state Legislature.
Disability Rights Washington is entreating the public for help, calling for a panel, one that includes both state officials and concerned citizens.
Reisha Abolofia, author of No Excuses: shining a light on abuse and neglect of people with developmental disabilities in Washington institutions, says lawmakers and public officials are aware of the report’s findings. To her knowledge, no special investigations have been assigned.
“People with disabilities are viewed as less than human,” says Abolofia. It’s the only answer she can give for why state officials have not done more.
Sue Elliott, executive director of the Arc of Washington says, “Washington ranks 42nd in the nation for how we treat our DD (developmentally disabled) residents.”
This kind of treatment wasn’t acceptable in the 19th century, and it isn’t acceptable now.
But until Governor Inslee and the state Legislature take concerted action, more than 800 of our most vulnerable citizens remain at risk.