(Cross-posted from the COFAR blog)
A van crash this week in Newton, which injured 12 adults with intellectual disabilities, highlights a lack of adequate oversight of the state’s community-based system of care.
The incident, involving a driver for a state subcontracted transportation company, also points to some apparent loopholes in the state’s current Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system.
News organizations around the state reported that Addis Gabriel Woldeguiorguis allegedly drove a passenger van into a parked garbage truck on Monday as he was transporting the special needs adults to a day services program in Newton. Police said they found a broken crack pipe and a plastic bag containing suspected crack cocaine in the van. Woldeguiorguis also reportedly told police he had taken two oxycodone pills four hours before the crash for foot pain.
According to The Boston Globe, Woldeguiorguis, who was charged Tuesday with driving under the influence of drugs and with drug possession, has “a traffic history three pages long in New York, with violations dating back to 1980, and a 2005 notation for possession of drugs.”
This seems similar to a situation we reported about in May in which a convicted sex offender in California violated a five-year probation there and fled to Massachusetts where he took a job driving people with intellectual disabilities to day programs.
Both cases appear to result from the fact that Massachusetts requires special needs transportation companies to check drivers’ records only in this state and to administer a CORI background check, which does not identify criminal arrests or convictions in other states. State agencies are, moreover, not currently authorized to require vendors to make use of the FBI’s national criminal background check system. Woldeguiorguis’s driving and CORI records did not indicate any problems, according to the Globe, since all of the violations occurred in New York.
There are other potential problems with the current background check system in Massachusetts. If the potential penalty for a criminal offense does not include incarceration, it does not appear on a CORI record, according to Georgia Critsley, general counsel of the Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Systems. Critsley said Massachusetts motor vehicle offenses such as OUI and Operating to Endanger appear on the CORI, whereas civil motor vehicle offenses such as speeding do not. Further, after reforms were enacted in 2009, CORI regulations appear to exempt existing state and vendor employees, who were not previously subject to CORI checks, from any additional CORI checks.
These seem like big loopholes when it comes to hiring people to care for and drive DDS clients. Meanwhile, a bill in the state Legislature, which has been repeatedly filed by Rep. Martin Walsh of Boston and which would authorize the use of national FBI background checks for people hired by DDS and its vendors, has remained in the Judiciary Committee for months.
There may be other loopholes as well. We asked Howe yesterday whether the CORI background check regulations actually apply to transportation companies that drive clients under subcontracts with either EOHHS brokers or DDS vendors. We also asked whether DDS has any policies or regulations requiring drug testing for employees of transportation companies, DDS vendors, or other DDS programs. We haven’t yet heard back.
Jennifer Kritz, communications director for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, told the Globe her department is “conducting a thorough review of the transportation provider’s actions and performance (in the Newton crash), as well as the hiring practices related to this specific driver, in order to determine whether any action is necessary.’’
This reaction by EOHHS seems inadequate. EOHHS’s review should extend beyond the actions and performance of this particular transportation provider and beyond its hiring practices related to this specific driver. EOHHS should be looking at this point at all of the state’s background check policies and regulations, and whether all of the clients in its agencies are protected from persons unsuited to be caring for and driving them.
The response by the EOHHS has weasel words designed to appease the angry while they do nothing. The vendors are running the show, and they don’t want anything to impede their ability to pay cheaply for help. The “thorough” review will likely ind nothing wrong. This needs an independent evaluation in House Post Audit.