The death of a 39-year-old Weymouth man last year called attention to serious problems with medical care for the 8,700 retarded adults living in group homes. The people caring for them are poorly trained and ill-paid for the challenge of meeting their complex health needs.
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Rachel Deline, a 50-year-old retarded woman, died after she was given a double dose of a powerful anti-depressant. No one denies that the system failed her, but no one has been held accountable.
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Many group home workers know too little English to understand instructions on giving medicines to retarded residents and fail a state certification test over and over.
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State also reviewing Randolph home’s medication miscue
By SUE REINERT ~
The Patriot Ledger
update published Nov. 1, 2004
State officials are investigating the treatment of a retarded woman in a Randolph group home after her mother discovered that a worker had sent her to a daytime program without underwear.
On the same day, another employee at the home failed to give the 28-year-old woman a prescribed birth control pill, but wrote a report saying the resident had received the medication, records show.
Marion Harper of Randolph said she was angry and troubled by the Oct. 8 mistakes involving her daughter.
“This should be addressed,” Harper said. “A parent should not be left in the dark about what’s happening to (her) child.”
Donna Rheaume, spokeswoman for the Department of Mental Retardation, said, “Both matters have been brought to our attention and are of concern to us. We are currently reviewing both of the matters and will take appropriate action once the review is complete.”
Martin Jones, president of Human Service Options of Weymouth, the for-profit company that operates the Randolph home, said the worker who sent the resident out without underwear was fired.
The employee who made the medication mistake still works for the agency, but cannot administer drugs until she undergoes retraining and again passes state tests certifying her to give medication, Jones said.
Jones denied that the employee tried to cover up the mistake by making a false entry in the group home’s log.
The worker sent the drug to Harper’s house that night when the daughter went home for the weekend, which alerted the mother to the mistake, Jones said.
Since Harper gave her daughter the daily pill that evening, “there was no injury to the individual,” Jones said.
Still, he said, “There’s no excuse for the medical error. This person made a very big mistake.
“We’re very lucky it was that medication,” Jones said. “If it had been anti-seizure medication, there might have been consequences.”
A doctor prescribed the birth control pill to control the woman’s menstrual periods, Jones and Harper said.
The employee who sent Harper’s daughter to a day program without underwear told a Human Service Options manager that she did not have a clean pair and the dryer at the home was broken.
Workers could have purchased underwear in such an emergency, Jones said. “It’s not acceptable to send someone without underwear,” he said.
He said the mistake was inexcusable. “Common sense cannot be taught,” he said.
Harper took her daughter out of the house and brought her home after she discovered the mistakes.
She had cared for her daughter at home until July, when she reluctantly decided to send her to a group home because it was getting increasingly difficult to take care of her, Harper said.
After reading a Patriot Ledger series in March about medical mistakes at group homes, Harper said she quizzed Human Service Options officials about problems before sending her child to the agency’s home in Randolph.
“They promised me the world,” she said. “They said everybody is medically certified. But what did I get?”
Her daughter had not resided long in the group home. She went home in late August when an older daughter died, Harper said. She returned to Human Service Options on Oct. 4, just four days before the mistakes.
“It’s very unfortunate,” Jones said. “The consumer was quite happy in the home.”
Harper, 63, said she is trying to get her daughter into a home operated by another agency. “I won’t send her back to Human Service Options,” she said.
I am writing in response to the Nov. 1 article about the woman that went to her day program without underwear on. I was very upset about the headline on the article, “Retarded woman sent out not fully dressed.”
Using the title “retarded woman” was offensive. I have worked in this field a long time, and my job is to get the community to accept all types of people. I refer to my individuals as “mentally challenged.”
I also have family members that are autistic and mentally challenged and want the community to accept them as individuals. I work really hard to get my individuals out in the community and to have them respected as I am respected in the community. These people now live in our neighborhoods, and they make great neighbors as far as I am concerned.
Back in the ’50s and ’60s they were institutionalized, and no one cared what happened to them. Now we have group homes, and some even can live on their own with very little assistance from people like me. I just wish people would think before we label someone in this community.
We need to respect everyone, as that’s how we will make this place a better world.
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ABOUT THE TERMINOLOGY
In this series we use the term "retarded" to describe people with mental handicaps because it is direct and commonly understood. We do so with respect and an understanding that some prefer such alternatives as mentally challenged or intellectually disabled on the grounds that retarded carries a stigma. Arguments on both sides of the debate are posted here on the web.