Thursday, May 16, 2002

Mental-retardation director urges training




By Brian Clark
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Officials who oversee care for the mentally retarded need more training in how to remove abused or neglected people from their homes or other facilities, the director of the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation testified Wednesday.

        Ken Ritchey told a House committee that changes to a proposed bill are needed to require county mental retardation boards to educate workers in emergency removal procedures.

        “I want to make sure that every county board employee ... is fully aware of the process that must be followed in removing someone from a living environment where they may be in jeopardy,” Mr. Ritchey said.

        Mr. Ritchey asked legislators to put the new requirements in a reform bill that officials say would allow them to use a new licensing scheme to crack down on nursing homes for the mentally retarded that fail to prevent abuse and neglect.

        Instead of a lifetime permit to operate homes, the bill would put one- to three- year limits on their state licenses. The department would inspect each home at least once before its license expires to see whether the license should be removed.

        Mr. Ritchey's testimony comes four months after an Enquirer investigation revealed that conditions were so bad at 65 nursing homes over the past three years that state officials threatened to take away vital Medicaid funds. The newspaper also identified 12 people who died under questionable circumstances.

        One of them was 44-year-old Denise Tavner of Dayton. She died of dehydration in a relative's home where she had no water for days at a time. She was emaciated, with lice and urine burns. Dayton police and Montgomery County officials knew about her plight and had the power to remove her from her home. But they didn't.

        The Ohio Legal Rights Service, which represents the rights of the mentally retarded, later found county workers and police needed more training in when to remove people from their homes.

        Jim Knight, a spokesman for the Montgomery County prosecutor's office, said Wednesday three prosecutors met last week but are still “weighing the evidence” before deciding whether to take the case to a grand jury.

        “It's a tough case,” he said.

       



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