Maltreatment reported at state care facility

Report points to need for improved protection from abuse

On the front page of its Sept. 18, 2008 edition, the Star Tribune reported that the State Ombudsman for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, along with state regulatory agencies, found that people with developmental disabilities were mistreated and restrained excessively at the state-run Minnesota Extended Treatment Options (METO) facility in Cambridge. For more than two years residents with developmental disabilities were subjected to extreme measures to control their behavior, such as restraint with metal handcuffs, in violation of state and federal regulations that protect persons with developmental disabilities from maltreatment. In a report the ombudsman office published called “Just Plain Wrong,” the office also found that METO had morphed from its mission of providing short-term stabilization for clients in crisis into an institution where many clients lived for years with no hope of returning to their homes in the community.

Those individuals with developmental disabilities whose current behaviors are so challenging that they can’t yet be served safely in their communities are admitted to METO. METO’s stated goal is to provide the services these individuals need so they can get their challenging behaviors under control and develop the skills they need to go back to their community.

As advocates for individuals with disabilities—including residents of METO—we applaud the ombudsman’s decision to publish this report in an effort to shed light on these problems and prevent their recurrence. All people with disabilities, no matter how serious their behavior challenges, deserve to be treated with respect. We realize that there are times when behaviors of an individual with developmental disabilities pose a threat to themselves or others. At those times, quick intervention is needed to manage the situation. However, the response of caregivers should not harm the person with developmental disabilities or violate their rights and their dignity.

The abuses at METO happened in spite of all of the current regulations and laws meant to protect these vulnerable individuals. Continued close monitoring of METO is required but is not enough; the state must take additional steps to prevent vulnerable individuals from ending up there in the first place. More than 20,000 Minnesotans with developmental disabilities live and receive services in the community, and the state is responsible for maintaining an adequate safety net for these vulnerable individuals. State-operated crisis intervention services are a key part of the service system. But in the past seven years, this system has been severely eroded by budget cuts, with one consequence being more and longer placements at METO.

We urge the state and the counties to step up their efforts to restore a fully functioning community crisis intervention system, so that people with developmental disabilities can stay in their homes safely and with dignity. And when METO is the only option, we must all demand that it be a positive, safe and temporary one for our most vulnerable citizens.

“Just Plain Wrong” also points to a need for additional changes in the way we protect our vulnerable citizens. If these abuses happened in spite of all our current regulations and laws, we need to look at additional ways to ensure that people with developmental disabilities are treated with dignity. We need a system where the community is looking out for their vulnerable citizens—more people involved in the person’s life, not more people involved in additional paperwork.

Mike Gude oversees communications for The Arc of MN.