Report slams NY agency’s handling of young man’s death

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Disability Rights New York asserts in a new report that a state residential care facility systematically neglected a patient prior to his death in 2013, contradicting the findings of a state agency tasked with investigating such allegations.

The individual, identified as M.H. in the report, died at a hospital when medical professionals inadvertently removed a stomach feeding tube, which had been placed in him hours earlier. According to the report, M.H., a then-18-year-old diagnosed with autism and “severe mental retardation,” had been in “constant and excruciating pain for the eight months” prior due to problems with his feeding tube, which he had used since a young age.

At the time, M.H. was living in the Saint Dominic’s House in Goshen, New York, a state-licensed intermediate care facility.

In the report, DRNY faulted the facility’s physician, identified as Dr. P. in the report, for failing to adequately respond to M.H.’s complaints, noting that he allegedly provided no assessment of M.H. in the three months prior to his death. In addition, DRNY found that Dr. P. had verbally informed the state that St. Dominic’s House was ill-equipped to treat M.H., but nonetheless failed to follow-up with a written referral request.

DRNY also alleged that the facility did not adequately supervise Dr. P, adding that his staff often voiced their concerns about his treatment, but declined to report, or were apparently not aware how to report, any complaints to the state.

After M.H.’s death, the state Justice Center for the Protection of Special Needs investigated Saint Dominic’s House. The agency, created by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2013, came to many of the same conclusions as DRNY as to Dr. P’s treatment, but nonetheless declined to conclude a finding of abuse and neglect.

DRNY asserts the Justice Center’s report was inappropriately narrow, particularly in regard to its focus on the direct actions leading to M.H.’s death, as opposed to the larger set of events during his time at Saint Dominic’s House.

It also hammered the Justice Center for taking 11 months to produce the report, despite state law mandating that such reports be completed within 60 days.

“DRNY calls upon Governor Andrew Cuomo to immediately direct the Justice Center to reopen an investigation into M.H.’s death and examine the reasons for their failure to act,” DRNY Executive Director Timothy Clune said in a news release. “The Justice Center clearly failed to protect the remaining residents at SDH from potential abuse and neglect.”

The report comes two months after the Associated Press published a scathing report, questioning the Justice Center’s  aggressiveness in tackling abuse and neglect allegations. The AP found that since 2014, the Justice Center had received more than 25,000 allegations of abuse and neglect in state licensed nursing homes.

Although the Justice Center substantiated more than 7,000 of these allegations, it filed criminal charges in just 169, or about 2.5 percent, of these cases.

Disability Rights New York and Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in New York and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.