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Justice Department Gives Oakwood Five More Years To Shape Up
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 31, 2006

SOMERSET, KENTUCKY--The U.S. Department of Justice has reached a settlement agreement with the state of Kentucky giving it five years to make changes to ensure that the 254 residents at Communities at Oakwood are protected from harm, and have adequate supports and services.

The settlement may mean little, however, if the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid decides this month to withdraw $43 million in federal funding for the facility.

The Justice Department has been monitoring conditions at Oakwood since 2001, when federal investigators found widespread problems of abuse and neglect of the adults with developmental disabilities housed at the institution. That led to a 2004 "memorandum on understanding" signed by state and Justice Department officials designed to improve conditions.

Conditions have not improved. In fact, since January 2005, the state's own inspector general with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has given Oakwood its most serious 'Type A' citation 22 times for abuse and neglect. In the past two years, 15 Oakwood employees have been charged with mistreating residents. Just last month, one former employee was sentenced to two years in prison for abusing a resident.

According to a DOJ statement released Thursday, the new agreement "replaces and strengthens" the 2004 out-of-court settlement. Justice Department officials said key differences include the fact that this time a federal judge will monitor conditions at Oakwood, and that the state could be found in contempt of court and fined if those conditions are not improved.

However, Wes Butler, general counsel for Kentucky's Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told the Lexington Herald-Leader that Thursday's settlement agreement is nearly identical to the 2004 memorandum of understanding.

The inspector general has already fined the state $1.4 million for ongoing problems at Oakwood.

On Wednesday, local newspapers reported that state officials had started negotiations with the private, non-profit Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board to take over day-to-day operations of Oakwood.

One advantage of Bluegrass, officials said, is that workers at the facility would have to leave state employment -- and state merit system protections -- to become Bluegrass employees. Several Oakwood workers who had been fired or otherwise disciplined for abuse or neglect were later reinstated by the state Personnel Board.

The state has paid Liberty Healthcare $18 million to manage Oakwood since the federal government threatened to pull Medicaid funding last fall. But those working at the facility are state employees.

Related:
"Oakwood may get a new manager" (Courier-Journal)

http://www.inclusiondaily.com/news/06/red/0831g.htm
"Justice Department and Kentucky Reach Settlement Regarding Conditions at Oakwood" (U.S. Department of Justice)
http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2006/August/06_crt_582.html
"Communities at Oakwood" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)
http://www.inclusiondaily.com/news/institutions/ky/oakwood.htm

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