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Lawmakers: DHHS Offers Poor Response To Alleged Neglect Of Adults With Developmental Disabilities

The co-chair of Maine’s Health and Human Services Committee says the state has provided a vague and unsatisfactory response to a federal audit about its failure to adequately protect people with developmental disabilities.

Democratic state Rep. Patty Hymanson says she’s concerned about whether Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services is resolving issues identified in the audit that was released this summer.

When Hymanson, along with Health and Human Services Committee co-chair Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey, sent a letter to DHHS in August, she was hoping she’d get answers. Instead, she says, the responses fell short.

“When I read them, I am full of more questions,” she says.

The lawmakers asked DHHS why a federal audit found that Maine does not properly report or investigate critical incidents involving people with developmental disabilities in community care settings, and how the Department is resolving those issues.

Hymanson says she’s glad to see DHHS has made a few corrective actions, such as holding regular meetings to review critical incidents and identify trends. But in many of the responses, she says, DHHS shifted blame to other agencies or cited its obligations without explaining how it plans to adequately protect people with developmental disabilities going forward.

“I still don’t have in my head, based on these answers, what the remediation plan is going forward,” she says.

The Office of the Inspector General audit released this summer found that over two and a half years, from 2013 to 2015, DHHS failed to report 95 percent of incidences of suspected abuse or neglect. It also failed to investigate 133 deaths during that time frame, nine of which were deemed as suspicious, unexplained or untimely.

In one case, a resident drowned in a bathtub.

“These are adults who cannot do things for themselves. So they have to have other people doing things,” Hymanson says.

That’s why oversight, she says, is so important. She says she’ll work with Brakey and other members of the committee to elicit specific information from DHHS about steps it’s taking to rectify issues and measure improvements.

Preferably, Hymanson says, that will be learned in the course of a hearing, and not an exchange of letters.

Neither Brakey nor DHHS have responded to requests for comment. In previous responses to the audit, Acting Commissioner Ricker Hamilton has said the findings were during a time of transition within the department, and that many of the issues identified have been addressed.