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Mother Wants Answers Over Son's Scalding Death At State-Run Facility
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 23, 2006

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI--Rutherford "Rudy" Wallace died last Thursday after suffering a series of heart attacks at St. John's Mercy Medical Center.

But the heart attacks were triggered six days earlier by massive scalding that caused second and third degree burns on the 35-year-old man's body at the institution where he was housed.

Now county police, state investigators, the state's protection and advocacy system, and Wallace's mother, Linda Harris, are trying to determine how the 80-pound man -- who was partially paralyzed, had intellectual disabilities, and could not talk -- was allowed to be in a tub of between 125 degree and 140 degree water for several minutes, to the point that his skin was starting to fall off his body.

They want to know why two staff at Northwest Habilitation Center put Wallace to bed with those injuries to suffer for up to 3 1/2 hours, along with why -- once a third worker discovered his burns -- it took more than 70 minutes for staff to call for an ambulance instead of 9-1-1. They also wonder why facility staff failed to report the incident to police, leaving it up to the hospital to do so.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Missouri Department of Mental Health failed to contact the federally mandated Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services, which investigates abuse and neglect within the state mental health system. The department did not inform the agency after the scalding, or after Wallace's death last Thursday. Instead the group learned about it when a reporter phoned Tuesday afternoon of this week.

"How can we investigate it if we're not told of it?" asked executive director, Shawn DeLoyola.

State officials confirmed that the two workers have since been fired from the 80-bed facility.

"They told me the two people who were involved were fired," Harris said Tuesday. "Whoop-de-do. They're fired and barred from working. Well, my son's dead."

Police have yet to determine whether the scalding was an accident and whether criminal charges should be filed.

Last year, Governor Matt Blunt proposed closing Bellefontaine Habilitation Center, a state-run institution housing 340 people with intellectual disabilities. Blunt's proposal came after several dozen reported incidents of abuse and neglect -- and at least one death -- at the institution over the previous year. Blunt's proposal was rejected by a legislative panel.

"Authorities investigate death at habilitation center" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
"Burned man had to wait for help" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
"Bellefontaine Habilitation Center" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)


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