Texas-StateSchools 04-15 Web

800 punished for abuse

More than 800 employees were suspended or fired for abusing mentally and developmentally disabled people at 13 state institutions in the past four years, officials said Tuesday.

The Department of Aging and Disability Services disclosed the disciplinary actions in response to an open records request from the Associated Press. Last month, Gov. Rick Perry’s office confirmed a federal investigation into alleged abuse and neglect at the Denton State School, the largest such facility.

The state said 239 employees were fired or suspended in fiscal year 2007 for the abuse, neglect or exploitation of residents. There were 200 such disciplinary actions in 2006, 203 in 2005 and 180 in 2004, according to the records.

The breakdown by school was unavailable. The 13 state schools and centers combined have about 12,000 full-time employees.


An advocate for the mentally disabled called the number of employees disciplined "stunning."

"It indicates to me that there is clearly a culture of abuse or neglect in these facilities," said Jeff Garrison-Tate, president of San Antonio-based Community Now.

State officials also acknowledge at least three state school residents have died since 2002 in which abuse or neglect by caretakers was a factor.

Laura Albrecht, a spokeswoman for the Aging and Disability Services office, said the firings and suspensions reflect the state’s strict stance. "Our employees go through training to recognize abuse and neglect and to report any incidents," she said.

Perry told The AP that the suspensions and firings indicate that state schools are trying to rid themselves of bad employees.

"What I make of it is that the agency is doing its job," Perry said. "If there are individuals who have broken those parameters of employment, they need to be removed, they need to be fired, need to be dealt with."

The 13 state facilities provide full-time care for nearly 5,000 mentally retarded or mentally ill residents who live there. That’s about five times the national average. By comparison, New York and California combined have about 4,600 residents living in 17 institutions, according to data compiled by United Cerebral Palsy.

State records show more than 450 incidents of verified abuse or neglect in fiscal year 2007, a year in which the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services investigated nearly 3,500 allegations at state schools. About 51 percent of the confirmed incidents involved neglect, 31 percent involved physical abuse and 16 percent involved emotional or verbal abuse. Less than one percent involved sexual abuse.


At the Denton facility, a comprehensive inspection last April revealed 25 citations for failing to meet federal standards on protecting patients; having policies that prevented mistreatment and showing that investigations were thorough. Another inspection in January found that the Denton school failed to educate staff on basic first aid, health, and emergency needs.


Associated Press reporter Kelley Shannon in Austin contributed to this story.


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