E N Q U I R E R   S P E C I A L   I N V E S T I G A T I O N
What's been reported, what's been done

In two previous installments of Ohio's Secret Shame, the Enquirer revealed that the state mental retardation system is so chaotic that it routinely fails to prevent deaths, correct problems or enforce minimum standards of care.

The well-being of 63,000 mentally retarded people depends on the system, which taxpayers fund with $1.8 billion every year.

Among the newspaper's findings thus far:

  • 80 to 120 mentally retarded people die each year from choking, drowning, abuse, neglect or other avoidable causes. That's one of every seven deaths in the system.

  • Reports of neglect, abuse and other serious incidents have quadrupled in the past four years. Yet there's little public accounting.

  • In the past three years, the state found problems so serious at 65 institutions and nursing homes that it threatened to cut off their funding. Not one was ever closed.

  • Caregivers who abuse and neglect mentally retarded people rarely are punished. To the contrary, since 1997, the state has paid 18 workers more than $150,000 to quietly leave institutions where they were suspected of abusing people.

  • 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:

    Task force

    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.

    Inside the Report
    Living alone
    Many people don't get the help they need to live on their own.

    At last, a decent home
    Pete Angler lived in danger for years, but now he's safe.

    Flexibility yields solutions
    Some counties tailor programs to individuals who need help.

    Hamilton County reports
    Open-to-public inspections help families choose providers for loved ones.

    Who's accountable
    The agencies and departments charged with prosecuting crimes against the mentally retarded.

    What's been done
    Find out what's changed since the first two installments of Ohio's Secret Shame

    Photographer's album
    A visual journey into the lives of Ohio's mentally retarded.

    For Pete's Sake
    A photo essay of Pete Angler and his advocates' 10-month struggle.

    Ohio's Secret Shame

    Part 1Part 2Part 3