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Proposed Laws to Ensure Investigations into Abuse at Homes for Developmentally Disabled

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In California, there are seven state hospitals established by section 7500 of the Welfare and Institutions Code that are designed to care for and treat the developmentally disabled. There are also five state-run developmental centers that house people who suffer from disabilities and who are unable to care for themselves. These developmental centers and hospitals do not always operate in the manner in which they should, oftentimes to the detriment of their residents.

“Unfortunately, some of the state’s most vulnerable populations suffer the greatest abuses,” explained California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis, “and, in many cases, those assigned to protect and care for them are the perpetrators.”

An investigation by a not-for-profit group named California Watch identified both a pattern of abuse as well as one of law enforcement failing to respond properly when abuse was reported or when injury occurred.

Abuse Investigations and Cover-Ups

California, like most states, has laws in place that are designed to protect the disabled and those who cannot stand up for or speak for themselves. For instance, the California Welfare and Institutions Code section 15630-15632 establishes mandatory reporting requirements. These requirements establish the rule that anyone who has either full or intermittent responsibility for the care of a dependent adult (regardless of whether he or she is receiving compensation) is a mandated reporter of abuse. Any caregiver or caretaker should, therefore, be required to report any knowledge of abuse.

According to 15630(B), when this abuse occurs in a state developmental center, the report of the alleged abuse must be made to designated investigators of either the State Department of Developmental Services or investigators of the State Department of Mental Health. Alternatively, the allegations of abuse can also be made to local law enforcement.

Reporting the abuse or potential abuses to detectives and parole officers at the board-and-care institutions does not appear to have been an effective solution for the residents or their caregivers. Typically, the only law enforcement agency to investigate allegations of abuse or even suspicious deaths is the Office of Protective Services. Unfortunately, according to California Watch, there were hundreds of reported cases of patient abuse and injuries that were documented at the developmental care centers and that were then dropped with no charges filed, arrests or prosecutions.

An official from the California Department of Developmental Services who is responsible for overseeing the developmental centers neither commented on the lack of investigation or action nor on the data indicating that incidents of abuse have risen as much as 40 percent between 2008 and 2010. Instead, the spokesperson indicated that the Department keeps track of allegations and takes aggressive action-despite the fact that California Watch’s information revealed only two situations in which accusations of abuse led to an arrest, despite hundreds of accusations having been made.

Changing Laws

Fortunately, the state is now trying to take action to ensure that abuses are properly investigated. According to the Sacramento Bee, in May 2012, the Senate passed two bills intended to improve the safety of disabled residents and to force investigations of abuses that allegedly occur in homes for the developmentally disabled.

The bills are Senate Bill 1051 and Senate Bill 1522. The bills impose a requirement that the state notify outside law enforcement agencies and disability rights groups when allegations of violent abuse are made. Under SB 1051, officials in developmental centers must notify the protection and advocacy organization, Disability Rights California, whenever an unexpected or suspicious death occurs. Allegations of sex abuse and any other reports made to law enforcement must also be reported to Disability Rights California. Senate Bill 1522 mandates that either city or county police receive notification of any alleged sex abuses and assaults with force or deadly weapons.

Finally, the new laws impose minimum qualifications on those hired to the Office of Protective Services. Under this bill, those hired for the Office would be required to have had extensive past experience overseeing criminal investigations.

These requirements are intended to broaden investigations of abuses and to ensure that the state developmental centers do not simply cover up abuse allegations. The bills passed unanimously in the Senate without discussion and are designated as urgent, so they would take effect immediately if the state Assembly approves them and the governor signs them into law. This means that residents of California developmental homes may soon be getting the protection they deserve.

Additional information on the rights of the elderly and disabled in California is available to the public free of charge through our office’s Preferred Friends and Clients Program.

To request one of these free resources, or to speak with a California personal injury lawyer, feel free to call 866-981-5596.

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