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Maine DHHS Ends Contract With MaineCare Provider After Death At Facility

The state announced Monday that it has terminated its MaineCare contract with a Biddeford-based provider following the death of an adult with developmental disabilities in August.

Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services says it has already transitioned several adults into alternative housing, and is working to place 65 more within a month.

Maine Public health reporter Patty Wight spoke with All Things Considered host Nora Flaherty about the announcement.

Flaherty: What do we know about this death?

Wight: According to a press release sent out by DHHS Monday, the individual died at a facility operated by Residential and Community Support Services, or RCSS, in late August. All the department would disclose is that RCSS failed to administer critical medication to this person and also failed to summon emergency services during a medical emergency. We don’t know where this happened, but the Department says RCSS has 38 homes throughout southern Maine, from Wells to Auburn.

Why are we just hearing about this now?

DHHS says it did suspend all new admissions to RCSS on Aug. 30, and brought in law enforcement to conduct an investigation. While that investigation was underway, DHHS did an audit of RCSS and found other referrals made to Adult Protective Services over concerns about other residents. The department asked RCSS to submit a plan of correction, but they say that the organization hasn’t made enough progress to show that they have effective quality management and monitoring. That’s why DHHS decided to terminate their MaineCare contract.

What’s the response from RCSS?

The CEO of Residential and Community Support Services, Christine Tiernan, issued a written response saying that they’ve been providing high-quality services for years. She says that RCSS is cooperating with the investigation, and will respond to the termination of the state MaineCare contract “promptly and in an appropriate fashion.”

What happens to the remaining adults in the care of RCSS?

There are 65 of them who need new placements, and DHHS says they’ve found beds — they just need to make sure there’s enough staffing at these new locations. But they say the transition won’t take more than a month.

What does this tell us about adult disability services in Maine?

I think that’s a question that still needs to be answered. A few years ago, the U.S. Office of the Inspector General issued a scathing report that found both the state and providers were not properly reporting and investigating critical incidents of adults in community-based care. It found that in a two-and-half-year time period, 133 people with developmental disabilities died while in community-based care, and not a single one of those deaths was analyzed or investigated.

Now, that was a few years ago, and there have been some regulations put in place to improve reporting of critical incidents. And Staci Converse, who is a managing attorney at Disability Rights Maine, says that the action taken in response to this adult’s death is a positive sign.

“I can’t remember the last time that I’ve seen something like this, where the department has seen a problem and taken decisive action on it,” Converse says.

Something else to note about this incident is that RCSS operates one- and two-bedroom homes which don’t have a state licensing requirement. That’s something that the Mills administration has been concerned about, so DHHS announced last spring that it would create a licensing requirement, which the department is in process of implementing.

Originally published Oct. 21, 2019 at 2:31 p.m. ET.