Friday, March 18, 2011
Guest Post: Comments on "Crimes Against Humanity" Blog Post
An old (literally and figuratively) friend of mine, Richard Ruel, posted a comment on my last blog , "Crimes Against Humanity" which was a response to a New York Times article about abuse in group homes for the disabled and the inaction of officials. Google comments rejected the comment because of length, so why not turn it into a guest post? Richard is as nursing instructor at UMASS in Boston and well as a clinical investigator of the Department of Mental Health, one of the good guys. I thank you, Richard, for these comments and for sharing them with all.
I investigate abuse/neglect of persons with disabilities for a living, and I was pleased with myself that I was not too jaded (after 17 years working in the field) to be absolutely and totally disgusted and sickened by the inhumane treatment of the developmentally challenged in state run residences as reported in the NYT article. In fact, I could not get through it the first time around, and the day that I am not totally repulsed by these horrible accounts is the day that I quit my state job. I would love to assure Phil and his following that nothing approaching the magnitude of the mistreatment of human beings as reported by NYT occurs in our beloved state of Ma., but I can at least say that our state officials in charge of human services take abuse/neglect of disabled persons, children, and the elderly very seriously. The least I can do is to inform residents of Massachusetts who may be unaware of certain public services available to them how to access a number of agencies designed to help Ma citizens to recognize, report and respond to abuse. First a few comments about Phil’s blog:
As far as unions go, they do not usually impede the investigations process, which is where I run into them. Workers, even those not accused of anything, e.g. witnesses get nervous with the process and might have a union rep or another adult i.e. supervisor or attorney present with them during interviews with the investigator to assure due process, and no one has a problem with that. In fact, it is a clearly stated right that they have access to representation. Investigators are trained to be objective and professional, and we don’t conduct kangaroo courts where alleged abusers are presumed guilty. However, I have found that unions can make it extraordinarily difficult for management to terminate especially bad employees at times. Also, bad hiring practices by management contribute to the problem by hiring some of the bad apples in the first place. Once hired, union reps have to do their job and represent any and all of their members.
Such emphasis on the rights of workers! How about the rights of those under their charge, the most vulnerable in our society? First of all, there is no substitute for an advocate, be it a family member, appointed guardian, etc. Those with the most vigilant and vocal advocates are less likely to be victimized by way of abuse and/or neglect. Also, ongoing training of workers is vitally important but often overlooked due to time and financial constraints. Every facility and community residence is supposed to have a human rights officer. Sometimes the human rights officers who are supposed to represent the disabled/alleged victims belong to a union, the same one as the alleged abuser, and we may have a conflict of interest or at the very least, the appearance thereof. And for my final comment, I have this alert for you! Be forewarned that abusers and exploiters can circulate through the system and end up working with a different population. For example, someone working with the developmentally challenged can resurface working with the elderly and exploit them financially, an easy target for wolves in sheep’s clothing because this demographic can be so very trusting and desperate for any kind of assistance.
So what can we do to protect out loved ones from abuse and neglect? In Massachusetts, to report suspected abuse and neglect of disabled persons between the ages of 18-59, you should contact the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) at their 24 hour hotline 1-800-426-9009. As Phil pointed out, some of the abuse in NY State was criminal. Please be advised that a member of the State Police Detective Unit (SPDU) assigned to the DPPC reviews all reports of suspected abuse/neglect made to the DPPC to determine whether a crime may have occurred. Civil investigators assigned to cases can request the SPDU to rescreen the complaint when new information/evidence gathered during the investigation suggests criminal activity.
To report suspected abuse/neglect of persons under 18, you should contact the Department of Children and Families at their 24 hours hotline 1-800-792-5200. To report abuse of elderly persons (60 and over), call the 24/7 Ma. Elder Abuse Hotline 1-800-922-2275. Protective services, including counseling, legal services, home health, transportation, and safety plans, are available. Protective services are also provided by the DPPC and DCF. Should the abuse occur in a nursing home, you should contact the Ma. Department of Public Health. (DPH). Reporters of potential abuse/neglect are protected by law. There are also laws to protect reporters against retaliation from alleged abusers, employers, family members, etc. Some of you, by virtue of your profession (as a nurse, I know I am), may be mandated reporters, and you are required by law to make reports of suspected abuse. All of the above agencies have websites that can easily be googled, and once there, you will find details of their services and information regarding statutory and jurisdiction criteria with regard to abuse/neglect.