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State Auditor: MA Department Of Developmental Services Lagging On Abuse Investigations

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In a new report, Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump finds the state’s Department of Developmental Services has missed deadlines in abuse investigations and failed to provide oversight for follow-up protective planning or responding to incident reports in group homes.

The audit also says the DDS, tasked with providing resources and protections for disabled people, has not properly monitored medication reporting for clients. In a statement to WAMC, the department says it is taking steps to address the findings in the report, but a spokesperson declined to speak on tape.

Auditor Bump, a Democrat, spoke with WAMC about the implications of the report’s findings, and how it relates to an audit on the Disabled Persons Protection Commission released in June.

BUMP: The Department of Developmental Services is responsible for providing a variety of services in home and out of home to folks who are developmentally challenged. And one of the responsibilities is to investigate complaints relative to a variety of kinds of incidents that might occur, particularly within group homes, which is what we were looking at. And they could be incidents of physical abuse or emotional abuse, as well as monitoring medications mistakes. Mistakes could be a failing to provide prescribed medicines, or in other cases, delivering the wrong one, or delivering more doses than was prescribed and that could endanger the individuals. And so it's been a problem with timely investigations. You might remember a couple of weeks ago, we talked about the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, and they work with the Department of Developmental Services to see that all complaints are investigated on a timely basis. And we're finding problems in both of those agencies, most recently with DDS, in having those investigations completed on time.

WAMC: What are the concerns raised by investigations not being completed on time?

Well, it means that for prolonged periods of time, people could be subject to abuse, or they could be receiving the wrong kinds or not receiving the kinds of medicines that are required to treat their various conditions. To become a client of the Department of Developmental Services, and particularly to be in a group home setting, means that you are experiencing a fairly high level of physical or intellectual disability, which renders these clients very vulnerable. Few can advocate adequately for themselves. And so we need to make sure that proper care is being delivered, and if there's a suggestion that it's not, then it really has to be investigated in a timely manner.

You've said that you've been encouraged by the initial steps that DDS has taken to address the audit report. Can you explain what they've done that leads you to be encouraged about the progress they're making towards these issues?

So first of all, they are working with the providers of services in these group homes settings to have them, you know, more clearly understand what their responsibilities are. Enhanced record keeping and oversight to find out why medication mistakes, for instance, could be occurring in the first place. They've also pledged that they will work more closely with the Disabled Persons Protection Commission in coordinating exchange of information in order to produce more timely investigative reports. You know, unfortunately, just as in the case of the audit that we discussed a couple of weeks ago, there's often not good collaboration between sister agencies within state government and when you have vulnerable populations whose needs span a variety of state agencies, that collaboration is exceedingly important.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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