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With An Eye to the Future

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2001: STAR TRIBUNE's "Voiceless & Vulnerable" Series

"Voiceless & Vulnerable" is published, highlighting Minnesota's failure to protect people with developmental disabilities.

The STAR TRIBUNE ran an investigative series written by Paul McEnroe and published October 25 - 30, 2001, which looked into the failures of the system that is supposed to protect the state's citizens with developmental disabilities. The stories were chilling, and the reports, difficult to read. The investigation found 20 deaths in 6 years, with backlogs of abuse investigations that ran into the hundreds.

"More than 4,000 serious injuries – fractures, frostbite, burns – have occurred since 1994, when the state stopped requiring intensive review of injuries."

Voiceless & Vulnerable

The special report told the stories of people who were "voiceless and vulnerable," and how maltreatment in poorly-run, state-licensed residences was covered up, if it was discovered at all.

"The deaths involved neglect, starvation, physical restraint, medication overdose, drowning or other circumstances. At least 15 people died in group homes where authorities or workers raised questions about proper training."

The series of six articles blamed the Minnesota Department of Human Services as well as the residence homes, for not looking for patterns of abuse or maltreatment that would indicate widespread problems in the system. If DHS did uncover problems, it didn't send its maltreatment reports to the Office of the Ombudsman, sometimes for years at a time.

The series cited poor oversight, lack of cooperation between state agencies, inadequate funding, and light sanctions for creating the breakdowns in a system that is supposed to protect those who need the most protection.