As McNamara put it:
…the man who for nine years has headed the state agency responsible for the care of 24,000 adults with mental retardation in Massachusetts has left it to David and Linda Burke to cope with the fallout from their daughter’s devastating injuries.
McNamara also quoted from a letter to Morrissey about the case from House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr., who represents the Burkes’ district. Jones wrote:
Despite requests which have been make to your office for a meeting, including two personal conversations I have had with you in recent weeks, you and your staff have refused to meet with Mr. Burke. I find your response to be as surprising as it is unfortunate and unacceptable.
Even sadder is the fact that Lisa Burke’s accident is not an isolated case. A pattern has developed within DMR of dismissing and even punishing those who criticize the Department, no matter how legitimate their criticisms are. It’s an attitude that has gotten the Romney-Healey administration into trouble in other areas, such as the Big Dig. There are many unfortunate similarities between DMR’s inaction in the face of years of evidence of staffing problems at Lisa Burke’s group home and the administration’s long-running neglect that led to the fatal collapse of part of the Big Dig tunnel ceiling last summer. We can all be enormously thankful that there wasn’t a fatal outcome in the accident involving Lisa, but it wasn’t due to any diligence or care on the part of DMR that Lisa survived.
The conditions at Lisa’s group home that led to her injuries are part of a larger issue involving the Department. As much of the evidence in ongoing federal litigation over the Department has made clear, the system of care for persons with mental retardation in Massachusetts is in jeopardy. In the community, the system is at the “breaking point,” as a legal brief provided earlier this year to U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro by the Wrentham Association plaintiffs put it. Medication errors, sexual abuse, physical assaults and outright neglect have become prevalent in hundreds of group homes, which are often staffed by poorly paid workers with inadequate training. There is little if any real oversight of the system.
What has DMR’s reaction been to all this? They’ve engaged in a single-minded pursuit of the closure of the Fernald Developmental Center and the other remaining state facilities. Yet these facilities provide what is left of the safety net of care for persons with the most severe and profound levels of mental retardation in the state. DMR is simply taking us in the wrong direction.
We can only conclude that the time is long overdue for new leadership at DMR, and we need a new governor is is likely to make that change.