Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Georgia : Deaths following deinstitutionalization raise alarms and fears about the adequacy of community care

Tom Corwin and Sandy Hodson of The Augusta Chronicle wrote a series of articles on the transfer of people with mental illness and intellectual and developmental disabilities from state institutions to community placements. These transfers were done under a settlement agreement that Georgia reached with the U. S. Department of Justice in 2010 as part of the DOJ’s policy of aggressive enforcement of the Supreme Court 1999 Olmstead decision. Although the Olmstead decision determined that unjustified isolation is discrimination based on disability, it also recognized a role for institutional care and the necessity for the state to maintain a range of options for people with disabilities. It also required that people be removed from institutional care only when they do not oppose the transfer to community care.

The Olmstead decision has been widely misinterpreted as a mandate for community care for all.

The Augusta Chronicle discovered that nearly 1,000 patients had died in community care in the past two years and that a majority of the unexpected deaths were among patients with developmental disabilities. In this story, “Girl’s death among 500 in one year in community care”,  3/21/15, the reporters traced the fate of a 12-year-old girl removed from facility care against the wishes of her mother to an understaffed “host home”. This was followed by multiple hospitalizations, a broken leg, mismanaged medications, and finally her death. The mother demanded an autopsy but this was never done. Two months after the girl died, a cause of death had not been determined.

Follow the links to the other stories in this series. The reporters did an excellent job of putting together all the pieces and presenting them with attention to detail as well as giving an overall perspective on the problems in Georgia with community care and the agencies that are supposed to protect the health and safety of vulnerable people.

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