We don’t yet know what happened to cause the serious injuries suffered in late August by Paul Stanizzi, a resident of a group home for the intellectually disabled in Bedford.
The incident is currently under investigation by the Bedford Police Department, which, as of Friday, was declining comment on the matter and would not even issue a police report. But whether Stanizzi was assaulted or whether the injuries were somehow self-inflected or an accident, the incident raises serious questions about the operation and management of the residence.
Fox25 TV news reported on September 9 that Stanizzi, who is non-verbal, was found lying on the floor in his room by a staff worker at the group home, which is run by the Edinburg Center, Inc., a nonprofit provider that is funded by the state Department of Developmental Services.
After Paul Stanizzi’s mother was called by the staff worker, the family rushed to a hospital and found Paul unresponsive in a hospital bed. His brother Joe pointed out to Fox25 reporter Mike Beaudet that Paul had a black eye, a bloody nose, bruises on his fingers, scratches on his arm, what appeared to be fingerprint bruises on his arms, two larger bruises on his leg, a cut on his knee, and other abrasions.
Despite all that, the hospital was about to discharge Paul, Beaudet reported. But when Paul’s father tried to raise him from the bed, his head flopped down. An MRI subsequently revealed damage to the vertebrae around his neck. According to the Fox report, medical records noted “possible recent injury” as a cause. The doctors performed emergency surgery. It is apparently not clear whether Paul, who remains in the hospital, has been permanently paralyzed from that injury.
In a statement, Edinburg CEO Ellen Attaliades told Fox25 she could not discuss Stanizzi’s medical condition because of patient confidentiality rules. But she added, “Unfortunately there are instances when individuals with severe developmental disabilities can injure themselves through their own physical actions. To allege abuse without any evidence and without considering all factors is both wrong and unjust to his devoted caregivers.”
It’s certainly true that developmentally disabled persons, like anyone else, can injure themselves, although the extent of Paul Stanizzi’s injuries in this case points strongly toward the possibility of abuse. But even if it turns out to be the case that Paul Stanizzi somehow injured himself, what does that then say about the staffing and management of the group home? If Attaliades believes that the scenario under which Paul injured himself lets her agency and the residence entirely off the hook in this case, we think she’s mistaken.
DDS regulations require that facilities funded for the care of the developmentally disabled must be safe environments. We hope the Bedford police and the Disabled Persons Protection Commission are asking questions to determine just how safe this particular environment could have been. Did Paul haven a history of self-injurious behavior? If so, how carefully was he supervised? How long was he lying on the floor before he was discovered? Was he physically capable of injuring himself to the extent described? Were background checks done on all of the staff there? What kind of training was provided to the staff?
An online DDS licensing report on the Edinburg Center states that Edinburg’s two-year license to operate residential group homes was being “deferred” because of problems with medication administration. Other problems were noted in the report that required a 60-day follow-up by DDS, although there were no references to specific problems with abuse or neglect there.
The licensure report also stated that Edinburg had been experiencing growth since 2008 and yet was “dealing with economic decline and its ongoing impact on agency services.” The report added that the provider had lost clinical and emergency services and yet had opened two new 5-person homes in FY 2010. It seems strange that a provider would be cutting services and yet opening new homes at the same time.
Opening new facilities at the same time that services are being cut may indicate that this provider may be stretched thin on its staffing, or was stretched thin as of December 2010. (The posted licensure report was dated December 2010, which would make it about 9 months out of date. DDS licensure reports and operating licenses are valid for two years, meaning that a new report should have been posted on the website in December 2012. We have pointed out in the past that many of the licensure reports posted on the DDS website are out of date.)
Fox25 stated that Attaliades, the Edinburg CEO, told them that Paul Stanizzi is considered “part of The Edinburg Center family and his health and well-being are their primary concern.” We hope that is the case, but a thorough investigation is the only way to be at all certain of that.
We and others have long pointed out that care in widely dispersed group homes in this and other states is very difficult to monitor. Earlier this year, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut called for a federal investigation “into the alarming number of deaths and cases of abuse of developmentally disabled individuals in group homes.” Unfortunately, the Massachusetts DDS, in particular, does not appear to have placed a high priority on the safety of the provider-run care system that the Department funds.
The community-based, group home system in Massachusetts needs to be more tightly overseen, and the experience of Paul Stanizzi is one more in a long line of disturbing incidents that demonstrate that need.