There’s no easy way to do this, but when a state wants to cut costs (and ostensibly “improve” treatment, although that remains to be seen) and close a sprawling old mental hospital, and move its remaining patients to group homes, it’s going to run into opposition and problems.
The Boston Globe has the sad story about one woman’s apparent forced removal from the hospital, Fernald woman forced to move, advocates say, in today’s paper. The facility is the Fernald Developmental Center in Waltham, Massachusetts and at one time it housed over 2,000 patients. Now it’s down to just 170, and the state is moving them out whether they want to go or not.
While all that seems pretty straightforward, a US District Judge ordered the state to not move residents away from the center unless they agreed (because of pending litigation related to the closure of the facility).
The patient in question in this story, a 91-year-old, legally blind woman who suffers from mental retardation, told some people she didn’t want to go. But who’s in charge of her legally to make decisions for her?
Why, none other than the state, acting through the agency that operates the hospital, the Arc of Greater Boston. Knowing the state wants the facility closed, they appear to be making decisions for their charges, as their legal guardians, that actually go against the wishes of the patients they’re supposed to be advocating for!
Under questioning by Beryl Cohen, a lawyer for the Fernald League, a former employee of the Arc of Greater Boston, the corporate guardian for A.T. and some other residents, testified that she had spoken with A.T. at Fernald several times while working as a case manager from August 2006 until last week. She said A.T. unequivocally told her she did not want to leave the center.
“She clearly stated ‘no,’ ” said Linda Curran, who added that A.T. was “adamant about staying.”
After Curran conveyed A.T.’s feelings to supervisors and expressed her own opposition to moving Fernald residents to group homes in Bedford and Shrewsbury, Arc of Greater Boston stripped her of her caseload and gave it to a co-worker, she said. That employee recently approved moving the elderly woman to Bedford on Feb. 13.
Can we say, “Conflict of interest?” Can we say, “Trying to go around a judge’s order and hoping not to get caught?”
But wait, the story is even better.
The 91-year-old patient was told she was just going on an “outing” for a cup of coffee. The Arc employees then took her to the group home.
But when Cohen [a lawyer] questioned Johnson [the new case manager responsible for the patient], he derided the suggestion that A.T. [the patient] had gone on an outing and simply decided to stay at Bedford. “Isn’t a visit time-limited?” he asked.
“Right,” Johnson said.
Cohen said that in his questioning of Johnson, he wanted to determine “whether or not A.T. was deceived on Feb. 13.”
Even if she wasn’t purposely deceived, it seems possible that the patient was transferred to the group home in what wasn’t the most honest or transparent manner.
Update: A reader pointed us to the Massachusetts Coalition of Families and Advocates for the Retarded (COFAR) website, where you can find a great deal more resources related to this issue, as well as their latest newsletter. Well worth the read.