(Posted on behalf of The Fernald League for the Retarded, Inc.)
Our legal battle to keep the fabric of care for persons with mental retardation in Massachusetts intact will continue, despite our setback this week in the U.S. Supreme Court.
On March 25, The Fernald League sent a letter to Paul Jacobsen, acting regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, seeking a federal investigation of declining care at Fernald.
Over the past year and a half, there has been a dramatic decline in staffing, day programming, and other services at Fernald as the administration attempts to run the institution into the ground. These declines have violated the requirements of Title XIX of the Social Security Act, which specifies care levels in Intermediate Care Facilities.
As a result, we will file a new lawsuit in federal court, alleging discrimination by the Patrick administration against Fernald residents.
Our lawsuit will note that due to the staffing cutbacks in recent months, there have been a rash of unexplained injuries at Fernald, many of which have required off-site hospital care. These include broken arms, hands, cuts, and unexplained bruises. Other signs of declining care include the following:
- The Fernald clinical unit is no longer staffed with 24-hour nursing care. This past winter, several Fernald residents were hospitalized for pneumonia and other health issues. When they were returned to Fernald, they were not first admitted to the clinical unit for 24-hour observation, as had previously been the case. Instead, they were taken directly back to their residential units, without nursing supervision.
- The clinical unit has always been a safety net for Fernald residents. This service has now become almost nonexistent.
- A disproportionate number of layoffs of direct-care staff at Fernald in recent months has left staff-to-resident ratios at bare minimums and has created an unsafe environment for all residents. Residents are denied many recreational activities required by their Individual Service Plans.
- Supervision of staff has become a problem and staff have been required to float to different areas, resulting in a loss of sustained knowledge of needs of residents in their care. Many long-time staff have become so stressed due to their case overoads that they have begun seeking employment elsewhere.
- Since the announcement in December by Secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby that Fernald will close by June of 2010, families and guardians have been harassed by Fernald administrators into making hasty decisions to move their loved ones out. In addition, clinical teams have been ordered to make placement recommendations for residents without the input of guardians.
Despite the administration's efforts to run Fernald down and make life as difficult as possible for the residents and their families, the families remain committed to their legal battle to keep Fernald open.
As was repeatedly pointed out during a State House news conference held on Tuesday by the Massachusetts Coalition of Families and Advocates (COFAR), the care and conditions at Fernald and the other remaining state facilities still remain superior to the conditions in the community. As Bonnie Valade, the mother of Tony, a resident of the Templeton Developmental Center, which is on the administration's chopping block, put it:
If I thought for one minute that Tony will be offered equal or better care (in the community system), I would not be here today. Where he is, and most important, the on-site clinical care (at Templeton) is his life-support.