As a recent federal audit made clear, the state of Maine is failing people with disabilities in many ways. Here’s a partial list that should cause outcry from the public and action from the Legislature:
— The Maine Department of Health and Human Services did not investigate a single one of the 133 deaths of people with developmental disabilities while under the care of community-based providers across the state between January 2013 and June 2015. It was required to under an agreement with the federal government.
— It failed to report suspicious deaths of adults with developmental disabilities to law enforcement agencies to determine if crimes had been committed. It’s required to under state law.
— When community providers who care for those with disabilities told the department about people potentially being physically or verbally abused, neglected, exploited, sexually abused or subject to medication errors, the state accepted only 5 percent of cases, out of 15,897, for an adult protective investigation between 2013 and 2015. The state was required to investigate all cases per the agreement with the federal government that allows it to receive federal Medicaid funds.
— DHHS failed to notify community providers of the results of its investigations. It is important for those running group homes or overseeing caseworkers to know the results, so they can remove people from possible danger, and prevent neglectful or abusive employees from continuing to work with vulnerable clients.
— The department failed to refer all of the cases of suspected abuse, neglect and exploitation to a district attorney or police department for an additional, potential criminal investigation. State law requires the department to “immediately” inform the appropriate district attorney’s office of suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation.
— Maine lost 16 beds, likely two-thirds of the state’s capacity, to safely care for people with intellectual disabilities who are experiencing crises that put them and the people they live with in unsafe situations when the state’s contract with a nonprofit provider ended June 30 with no replacement. The organization gave the state months of warning that it would not continue the contract because it wasn’t receiving enough funding from the state to cover costs. Maine law requires that the state maintain “adequate capacity” to help people with disabilities who are experiencing a crisis and cannot safely remain in their own homes.
— DHHS has not made public information about crisis services for people with intellectual disabilities, such as how many crisis beds exist, since 2013, leaving providers in the dark about how to handle clients who may harm themselves or others. State law requires the department to publish a report on the matter at least once a year.
— Over the past decade, direct support providers — those who ensure people with disabilities take their medication, help them eat and use the bathroom, and run group homes to provide a safe place for them to live — have faced staffing shortages and vacancies as reimbursement rates for services paid for by MaineCare, Maine’s version of Medicaid, have been cut by 30 percent since 2007. The percentage accounts for inflation. Rates are set by the Maine Legislature.
— In the past year, a minimum of 24 group homes have closed, leaving 69 people with disabilities displaced. In about the next six months, another 12 homes are expecting to close, bringing the total number of people with disabilities displaced up to 109.
This is a pattern of failure that deserves an outcry from the public. With DHHS giving no indication it will change course, it will be up to community members to tell their lawmakers they expect major improvements. If DHHS won’t change on its own, it will be up to the Maine Legislature to force it to.