Legislature needs say on BSDC
There’s little doubt that persistent neglect and abuse at the Beatrice State Developmental Center have become a huge embarrassment to Gov. Dave Heineman’s administration.
The possibility looms that the recurrent problems might propel the governor into a rash decision to make the issue disappear by simply closing the controversial facility, despite his earlier assertions that he wants to keep the center open.
Last week consultant Joseph Toy of Kentucky predicted, “there likely will be an outcry by some parties to close the facility,” once realization sinks in that the state is almost certain to lose $29.7 million in federal funding for Beatrice, about half its annual budget.
In fear of the possibility of closure, Sen. Norm Wallman of Cortland has introduced a bill that would require legislative approval before such a step is taken. The bill was opposed at a public hearing by John Wyvill, director of the division of developmental disabilities for Health and Human Services.
Senators should approve the bill.
In a multitude of ways the executive branch of government has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to make that decision in the best interest of the vulnerable Nebraskans that are treated in these state programs.
The most recent evidence was the administration’s abrupt removal of 30 to 40 residents of the Beatrice State Developmental Center after Nebraska’s Chief Medical Officer Joann Schaefer concluded the staff was not capable of caring for them properly.
That incident came after years in which state officials failed to react effectively to escalating warnings from federal officials about deteriorating conditions at the center.
Then, after the residents were moved to hospitals, state officials found themselves scrambling to provide the training and rehabilitation they are entitled to by federal regulations. “No one knows what to do. It is ridiculous,” said Joan O’Meara, whose adult daughter was one of those moved.
Previously the administration has spent literally millions on consultants without solving the problems at Beatrice. Among the expenditures were $1.8 million spent on consultants from Texas and Pennsylvania. As Wallman put it, “That was money poured down a rat hole.”
Conditions failed to improve. The federal government still pulled the center’s certification and the state faces a loss of almost $30 million in federal funding, about half the center’s annual budget.
A major concern about a precipitous closing of the center is whether the residents would fare any better in community-based programs.
Guardians of some Beatrice residents insist that their dependents are better suited to an institutional setting.
The state’s record of overseeing community programs also has blemishes. Nebraska Advocacy Services filed a suit in 2007 after a 34-year-old developmentally disabled resident of a community program died of “aspiration pneumonia.” The lawsuit alleged that the staff at the nursing home was insufficiently trained in handling medical emergencies. The operator denied the allegation. The suit was ended by a confidential settlement.
More recently the attorney general filed suit in a case in which a resident of a community program allegedly became malnourished and covered with bedsores in a Lincoln group home.
In short the administration’s record of oversight for developmental programs is so pocked with ineptitude that it can’t be trusted to make the right decision. The Legislature should step into the breach.