METO settlement reached; courts must sign off

A $3 million settlement has been reached in a federal class-action lawsuit centered on the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options (METO) facility in Cambridge, and how the residents there were treated. The proposed settlement was announced Sept. 14 after two days of talks; as Access Press went to press it hadn’t been yet been finalized by the courts. The settlement requires approval by U.S. Federal District Court Judge Donovan Frank.

The lawsuit was filed by three families against the State of Minnesota and other defendants for restraining and secluding residents with developmental disabilities, prior to September, 2008. The families had children at METO. The three plaintiff families include Jim Brinker/Daren Allen, Elizabeth Jacobs, and Jim and Lorie Jensen, on behalf of their sons, Thomas, Jason, and Bradley.

Shamus O’Meara JD, lead counsel for the families and partner with the law firm of Johnson & Condon, P.A., said, “This settlement, if approved by the Federal Court, will establish lasting, positive change for the families who have been through so very much in this difficult, emotional situation. The State and the families have jointly agreed to develop effective policies and practices for the treatment and care of people with developmental disabilities, including those who are sent to state operated facilities. We recognize and appreciate the State of Minne-sota’s commitment to partner with the families on this extremely important effort.”

He added, “This settlement is a defining moment for the families in this lawsuit, and for all families of people with developmental disabilities in Minnesota.”

Jim Brinker said, “Thomas was sent to METO for throwing paint at school. It took us a long time to get him out. We are thankful for a settlement with the State and DHS which promises to develop appropriate protections to ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities such as those with developmental disabilities receive the treatment and respect they deserve.”

“Parents of children with developmental disabilities struggle every day to find answers and help,” Jim and Lorie Jensen said in a statement. “We believe the agreement allows DHS to work with the developmental disabilities community to create the necessary training and resources to help our family and other families who struggle with important decisions for their loved ones.”

“My son has been through much over the past three years. I am hopeful that he can be happy and will now receive the appropriate treatment and care he needs for his condition,” said Beth Jacobs.

Dr. L. Read Sulik, M.D., assistant commissioner for Chemical and Mental Health Services at DHS, which oversees the METO program, said the department is pleased to reach a settlement and noted the practices described in the lawsuit had ended.

“The Department of Human Services recognizes the vulnerability of individuals with developmental disabilities who are in our care,” Sulik said. “We are fully committed to working with families and the disability community to provide the safest and highest quality care for our most vulnerable citizens and will work to reduce and eventually eliminate the reliance on seclusion and restraints in treatment settings.”

The lawsuit contended METO staff routinely restrained residents in a prone face-down position and placed them in metal handcuffs and leg hobbles, placed residents in seclusion and isolation rooms for extended time periods, and deprived them of visits from family members, among other claims. The lawsuit sought damages for violations of the federal civil and constitutional rights of residents with developmental disabilities, and asked the Court to enter an injunction against the state to prohibit its restraint and seclusion practices, and to declare them unconstitutional. The defendants have denied liability for all of the claims.

One key condition of the settlement is that the families and state officials would work together over the next 60 days to develop appropriate policies and procedures for use at METO and the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). The parties also agree to form a committee to include stakeholders within the developmental disabilities community to study, review and modernize the DHS rule (Rule 40), which governs and protects people with developmental disabilities, to reflect current best practices, including the use of positive and social behavioral supports, and the development of placement plans consistent with the principle of the most integrated setting and person-centered planning, and development of an “Olmstead Plan” consistent with the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 582 (1999).

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