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Originally published December 20, 2012 at 4:50 PM | Page modified December 20, 2012 at 4:50 PM

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Editorial: DSHS must investigate alleged abuse at group homes for the disabled

A report by Disability Rights Washington concludes that about one-third of the 3,000 abuse and neglect complaints filed with DSHS over the past two years were never investigated. That’s unconscionable considering the disturbing nature of some cases.

Seattle Times Editorial

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WHEN people with developmental disabilities, or people who care about them, take the step of reporting abuse inside a state-certified group home, they have a right to know that someone is paying attention to their call for help.

Instead, the reality is due process can be elusive. The state Department of Social and Health Services has allowed mistreatment to go unpunished.

A report by Disability Rights Washington concludes that complaints from the state’s most vulnerable residents often languish on the desks of overworked state investigators.

What’s more disturbing is that despite evidence of wrongdoing, some cases are closed without ever being properly examined.

A Seattle Times news report this week by reporter Maureen O’Hagan offers sordid details from Disability Rights’ findings:

• In 2010, a 28-year-old man with cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities was allegedly assaulted by a paid caregiver at his group home in Spokane. State investigators ruled the abuse was unsubstantiated, despite documentation that proved he had bruising around his genitals. He remains in the same facility today.

• Last year, a 63-year-old with severe intellectual disabilities escaped death after he was administered a double dose of insulin. The state ruled this was an “isolated” event that did not meet its definition of abuse or neglect. A similar incident of overmedication involving the alleged victim’s twin brother (who shares the same disabilities) left him brain damaged and unable to use the toilet on his own.

Advocates say it can take weeks for the state to initiate an investigation. They have documented at least one incident in which the state took action against a negligent caregiver — nearly one year after the complainant died.

DSHS officials claim they have zero tolerance for abuse of vulnerable children and adults. They must prove they mean it.

Right now, there are only 15 investigators dedicated to looking into complaints from the 3,000 Washington residents living in supported-living facilities for people with disabilities. The same group is stretched thin. It also handles cases related to nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and adult family homes.

In her budget proposal, outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire requests funding for six more investigators.

The Legislature and DSHS must find a way to respond to complaints in a timely manner and move beyond determining whether caregivers are complying with rules.

Send someone out to see the faces behind the allegations. Listen to them. Protect them from further abuse.

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