New Jersey Settles With Feds Over New Lisbon Violations
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 2, 2004
TRENTON, NEW JERSEY--An independent agency will monitor progress as New Lisbon Developmental Center improves conditions for its residents and works to serve them in "the most integrated setting appropriate to their individualized needs", under an agreement announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Columbus Organization, a national consulting group, will visit the institution twice a year during the next four years to monitor the treatment and living conditions for the 536 people with developmental disabilities housed there. The state's progress in complying with the U.S. Supreme Court's Olmstead ruling will also be monitored. That 1999 decision determined that states violate the Americans with Disabilities Act when they unnecessarily institutionalize people with disabilities.
According to a Justice Department press statement, the agreement helps keep the state Department of Human Services from going to court for violating federal safety and health standards.
Starting back in 2001, federal inspectors found that the facility was endangering residents by mixing those who had histories of violence with potential victims. Investigators found numerous incidents of residents' injuries caused by other residents. One person died after being strangled by a fellow resident; another was beaten to death. Surveyors also found that poorly trained staffs, inadequate staffing levels, and a lack of required therapy services were contributing to an unsafe environment.
In the settlement agreement, which has been under negotiation for the past year, the state will add 300 new positions, thereby bringing the staffing level at New Lisbon to 1,500, or just about three staff for every one resident. Annual psychiatric evaluations will be completed for people that have mental retardation and mental illness. The use of restraints is also to be reduced, along with the number of resident-upon-resident assaults.
The state will also pay Columbus Organization up to $200,000 a year for its monitoring and up to an additional $50,000 a year to "investigate a death caused by alleged abuse, neglect or improper care," according to the settlement.
Last summer, federal authorities expanded their investigation to include Woodbridge Developmental Center. State officials said the Justice Department has not yet revealed those findings.
New Jersey operates seven institutions housing about 3,100 people with developmental disabilities.
In 2002, Governor James E. McGreevey said the institution problems were the legacy of "a history of neglect."
Investigation: New Lisbon Developmental Center (U.S. Department of Justice)
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"A History Of Neglect: New Lisbon Developmental Center" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)