Repairing the Arc Social services: Changes needed to prevent employee thefts in programs to aid disabled.

March 05, 1998

SOCIETY'S MOST VULNERABLE citizens deserve the most protection. This is something that Arc of Howard County, which serves people with mental disabilities, knows well. That is why it was so disturbing to learn that one in seven Arc of Howard residential clients has been victimized by employees since 1994.

The agency's failure to conduct adequate background checks and to institute reasonable accounting measures opened opportunities for unscrupulous employees to steal from people they were paid to help.

The lack of routine administrative oversight allowed cases such as that of former employee Lisa M. Burge. She pleaded guilty last month to stealing nearly $20,000 from clients. She admitted in court that she regularly drove three women from an Arc-supervised home to the bank to help them deposit checks, but that she cashed the checks and used the money for personal expenses.

Such incidents tarnish the reputation of Arc of Howard and also threaten to blemish, unfairly, related Arc agencies in Carroll, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties and in Baltimore. To be sure, the need for these groups is essential and enormous.

Maryland has more mentally retarded residents than services to care for them. Gov. Parris N. Glendening moved this year to bridge the gap by announcing a five-year, $391 million plan to serve the 6,000 adults and children with mental and physical disabilities on a waiting list for state assistance.

These groups provide residential care, employment opportunities and job training for developmentally disabled adults.

All the good work Arc of Maryland and the local agencies perform daily should not be overlooked because of administrative error and individual criminal acts at Arc of Howard.

The local agency now has the monstrous job of reassuring the public and funding sources that the abuses are history. The executive director says the agency has instituted procedures to prevent a reoccurrence.

Investigations by state regulators and Arc of Maryland officials could shed more light on the abuses, but they also ought to ensure that the measures implemented to remedy the problem are adequate.

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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