Families whose developmentally disabled loved ones were restrained at the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options (METO) facility will share in a $3 million settlement. U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank signed an order June 23 approving the comprehensive class action settlement agreement. The settlement finalizes a tentative agreement reached last fall that bars the state from using handcuffs or other restraints, except in emergencies, at the Minnesota Specialty Health System in Cambridge, METO’s successor facility.
METO was a Cambridge facility for people with developmental disabilities. It closed in late June as part of state government reorganization. Terms of the settlement will apply to the new facility. That is a smaller facility which will house up to 16 residents. METO housed up to 60 people at a time, including people who had been committed by the courts for behavioral issues.
Attorney Shamus O’Meara worked with the plaintiff families. “This settlement agreement is the result of constant negotiation by the over the past several months,” he said. “It establishes lasting, positive change for the families who have been through so very much in this difficult, emotional situation. We are very proud of the efforts of all parties, their consultants, counsel, and the federal court in working together to develop lasting and meaningful changes that will improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities and their families. This settlement is truly a defining moment for the families of people with developmental disabilities in Minnesota.”
The practices were halted in 2008. That’s when a DHS investigation revealed the practices. METO was cited for 15 violations.
The lawsuit, originally filed in July 2009, 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.
In the settlement, the defendants have denied liability for all claims. Commissioner Lucinda Jesson of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which oversees the METO program, said the department is pleased to reach a settlement. She said the practices described in the lawsuit had ended. “This settlement provides for more protections for the vulnerable clients we serve,” Jesson said. “It also commits DHS to treat our clients closer to their homes and communities. These are steps we need to take.”
The state also agreed to spend nearly $1 million on additional staff and training for community programs for the developmentally disabled, using funds now budgeted for METO. It also will set up committees to help ensure that people with disabilities can live in the least restrictive settings possible.
The three plaintiff families named in the lawsuit, who will serve as class representatives, include Jim Brinker/Daren Allen, Elizabeth Jacobs, and Jim and Lorie Jensen, on behalf of their sons, Thomas, Jason, and Bradley. The young men were METO residents. The settlement was negotiated in a lawsuit brought by the families against the State of Minnesota and other defendants for restraining and secluding residents with developmental disabilities. O’Meara will be mailing notices to all persons who resided at METO, as they are part of the class action. Class members are defined as all individuals who were subjected to the use of any aversive or deprivation procedures, including restraints or seclusion while a resident of METO from July 1, 1997 through May 1, 2011. The letter will outline the settlement and the former residents’ rights and obligations under it.
It’s not clear how many people will eventually share in the settlement. It is estimated that about 200 of the 300 people who lived at METO since 1997 were restrained by staff. The use of restraints was challenged by three families, who alleged that their loved ones were punished for actions as innocuous as touching a pizza box or being deemed disobedient. One young man had his arm broken. The court will eventually divide the settlement proceeds to the class members and may take into account the documented number of times residents were restrained and/or secluded.
The settlement agreement contains numerous provisions that will improve conditions for people with developmental disabilities placed in METO’s successor facility, including immediately and permanently discontinuing the use of mechanical restraints including metal law enforcement-type handcuffs and leg hobbles, cable tie cuffs, PlastiCuffs, FlexiCuffs, soft cuffs, posey cuffs, and any other mechanical means to restrain. It also prohibits manual restraint, prone restraint, chemical restraint, seclusion and the use of painful techniques to induce changes in behavior through punishment of residents with developmental disabilities.
The agreement also includes a revised DHS policy providing that in the event of an emergency which poses an imminent risk of physical harm to self or others and less restrictive strategies would not achieve safety, certain mechanical restraint may be used on residents of METO and its successor facilities. In order to help assure that the limitations on the use of restraints are observed, the settlement mandates that a third party expert will be consulted in connection with each use of restraint, an employee of DHS will serve as an external reviewer, and the court will receive quarterly reports from the external reviewer as to whether the facility is in substantial compliance with the settlement agreement. The state has also agreed to increase staffing and training requirements for the care of people with developmental disabilities, and has agreed that people with developmental disabilities will not be transferred to Minnesota Security Hospital and Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center solely for reasons of their disability.
State officials and the families 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. The agreement provides that the state will form key committees to include stakeholders within the developmental disabilities community to study, review and modernize the DHS Rule 40 which governs and protects people with developmental disabilities, to reflect current best practices. These practices will include use of positive and social behavioral supports, and the development of appropriate placement plans in state facilities.