Disabled boy's death a wake-up call for Maryland agencies [Letter]

July 18, 2014

The Sun's investigation into the death of a disabled boy under the care of LifeLine Inc. is a wake-up call for Maryland state agencies ("Maryland lawmakers, child advocates seek probe into oversight of troubled group home," July 14).

Maryland needs to analyze how so many problems arose in one small agency without a state response. Other children and adults with developmental disabilities are at risk until the state improves its quality oversight and coordination among service agencies.

Many people with developmental disabilities live in their communities safely with support from provider agencies, families and others. When this support fails, however, the state should step in promptly and firmly to protect vulnerable individuals from harm.

The Developmental Disabilities Administration, which licenses LifeLine, has a history of serious leadership deficiencies, financial problems and inadequate systems of quality assurance. The state chronically under-funds the Office of Health Care Quality charged with monitoring compliance with regulations intended to ensure adequate care and safety. The two agencies still do not have clear lines of responsibility for monitoring service delivery or remediating problems they observe.

Despite the egregious situation at LifeLine, including the revocation of its license to serve adults in 2012 after at least two people died after deficient care, imprisonment of its director for arson, tax liens and bankruptcy, LifeLine continued to operate under a DDA license with funding from the Department of Human Resources. Moreover, DHR apparently failed to sufficiently heighten its scrutiny of the remaining child-serving agency that continued to operate with the same management.

The Board of Nursing is another oversight entity that failed to protect the children from inadequate staffing levels. It is a violation of nurses' ethics to fail to report for duty, and other nurses are required to report unethical conduct to the board. Police reportedly visited the LifeLine homes for emergencies, but there was no external reporting of these incidents.

Finally, the foster care system was overseeing the care of the children. Yet even as The Sun was asking probing questions, LifeLine voluntarily relinquished its license and then a child died before the state removed the remaining children from LifeLine's substandard care.

LifeLine continued to remain operational as its infrastructure failed and despite multiple red flags. The Maryland Disability Law Center wants to seen an in-depth, transparent investigation aimed at meaningful systemic reform to prevent further neglect and harm to people with disabilities. If the result is that more funding is required for oversight, it would be money well spent.

Nancy Pineles, Baltimore

The writer is managing attorney at the Maryland Disability Law Center.

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