Friday, February 09, 2001

Agency's improvement impressive

State official praises turnaround at Warren MRDD

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Leaders of Warren County Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities were back in front of the county commissioners Thursday in a flashback to a year ago.

        This time, however, the news was all good.

        “I would not have guessed, frankly, that they could make the progress they did,” Don Bashaw, a state accreditation official, said of MRDD's new leaders.

        The state Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities issued 77 pages of citations in a review of the county agency last April. It issued a new review Wednesday that found only about a half-dozen procedural problems remaining.

        After MRDD submits a plan to fix those issues, Mr. Bashaw said, he expects to award the agency a three-year accreditation. A 1997 law requires all county agencies to be accredited, which shows that they are following the law, he said.

        Commissioners and MRDD board members alike were beside themselves with delight Thursday at the agency's progress.

        “I want to thank every ... staff member,” Commissioner Pat South said. “It's unbelievable that less than a year later the agency is totally turned around.”

        This time last year, MRDD was facing questions not only for buying two houses at far above their market value, but also for other fi nancial and management practices.

        “Those were scary times,” Commissioner Mike Kilburn said Thursday.

        In the face of angry commissioners and an outraged public, the superintendent resigned, replaced at the commissioners' request by county schools Superintendent John Lazares. The MRDD board, too, was forced out.

        Mr. Lazares brought in Paul Davis, a retired Hamilton County MRDD official, to run the agency day-to-day — both of them hired on an interim basis only. They're both still there, however, and they received much of the credit Thursday for the turnaround.

        “Paul actually was a young man last April,” Mr. Bashaw joked.

        Work remains to be done, but that's OK, board member Sonya Staffan said. The review was like reaching a bar she hadn't dared set.

        “I'm kind of speechless,” said. “It's such a relief.”


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