The well-being of 63,000 mentally retarded people depends on the system, which taxpayers fund with $1.8 billion every year.
A statewide registry of abuse suspects is supposed to keep bad workers out of homes and institutions. Started in November 2000, the registry contains just four names today.
The stories prompted a number of reform efforts. Among them:
Gov. Bob Taft created a task force of 17 prosecutors, judges and other experts to look for new ways to prosecute workers who abuse mentally retarded Ohioans.
Lorain County Prosecutor Greg White, who leads the task force, says the group is weighing ideas and hopes to finish its work sometime this year. "I still don't have a deadline to give you," Mr. White said in August. "It's a big job."
Penalties for homes
Advocates are pushing for a law that would allow the state to fine or ban admissions to poor-performing nursing homes for the mentally retarded. Supporters say nursing home managers should know their bottom line will be hurt if they provide inferior care. The House Health and Family Services Committee is considering the proposals.
Nick Baird, director of the state Department of Health, says imposing financial penalties on nursing homes for the elderly helped reduce actual harm to residents by 40 percent between 1998 and 2001. Such fines also could significantly reduce abuse and neglect in nursing homes for the mentally retarded, he says.
"We'd like to see things move more quickly," Dr. Baird says. "The governor supports it, and we've testified twice. Now the ball is in the legislators' court."
So far, the powerful nursing home lobby and other special interest groups have blocked reform efforts.
"We're trying to find a compromise," says Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, a member of the House Health Committee.