Justice Department Finds Life-Threatening Conditions At Arkansas
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 23, 2004
LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS--Conway Human Developmental Center is violating the civil rights of its residents, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded after a 17-month investigation.
In a 50-page letter sent Thursday to Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, U.S. Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta outlined the findings made by investigators looking into conditions at the facility which houses 550 residents with developmental disabilities ages 11 to 66.
The investigators found "certain conditions at Conway that violate the federal constitutional and statutory rights of residents," Acosta's letter read. "In particular, we find that residents of Conway suffer significant harm or risk of harm from shortcomings in the facilities' health care, habilitative treatment services, restraint practices, and protection from harm policies."
"The investigation found evidence of egregiously deficient, and at times life-threatening medical care, as well as deficient physical and nutritional management and therapy services," the Justice Department said.
Among the allegations in the findings letter is the claim that one resident experienced more than eight separate episodes, during the three months prior to her death, of significant bleeding at the site of her colostomy bag. Conway staff failed to address her bleeding, even though it was sometimes in amounts sufficient enough to spill blood onto her legs and soak her clothing.
The Department also found evidence that a majority of Conway residents suffer from seizure disorders, yet the manner of prescribing anti-convulsant medications at Conway may in some instances have actually worsened their seizure disorders.
Particularly disturbing, wrote Acosta, was the institution's failure to develop an accountable system for investigating resident deaths, particularly in light of the facilitys other identified deficiencies.
The investigation also found that the facility failed to provide adequate special education services to school-aged residents in violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Actual instruction time was extremely limited -- in some cases lasting as little as six minutes a day -- and the content of class instruction was not educational.
Finally, the Department alleged that some Conway residents were not being treated in the most integrated setting appropriate to their individualized needs, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. A number of residents have lived at Conway for most of their lives without the state ever making any meaningful attempt to determine whether they could function in a more appropriate setting outside the facility.
Residents who had been deemed ready for community placement, in some cases decades ago, have never been given the chance to move back into the community.
"In the unexpected event that we are unable to reach a resolution regarding our concerns, the Attorney General is empowered to initiate a lawsuit," Acosta concluded in his letter, giving the state 49 days to correct the problems. "We would prefer, however, to resolve this matter by working cooperatively with you."
Letter of findings (Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice)
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