Lawmakers press DHHS to explain how it failed to protect developmentally disabled adults
After a highly critical federal audit found that a state agency failed to protect adults with developmental disabilities, leaders of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee are pressing the agency to explain what happened – and how it can be prevented in the future.
The committee posed a series of pointed questions in a four-page letter dated Aug. 31 to Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Ricker Hamilton, and said it expects a written response delivered no later than next Tuesday. The panel’s quest for accountability includes trying to learn why the agency failed to investigate the deaths of 133 disabled adults who were receiving services.“We’re hoping that all of these questions are answered, because they deserve to be,” said committee co-chair Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York. “Frankly, it’s hard to do this. No one wants to talk about it, no one wants to give answers to these hard questions. But this is an identified problem. As the committee of jurisdiction (over DHHS) we need to press hard, for the sake of people in Maine who cannot take care of themselves.”
Federal officials also are reviewing the audit for possible action. The U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which funds services for the disabled, could require the state to change the way it responds to reports of abuse and other critical incidents. Specifically, CMS said it would take the auditor’s recommendations into consideration when negotiating future funding for services.
The audit, released Aug. 10, was conducted by the Office of Inspector General of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. It found several critical problems with how Maine DHHS and, in some cases, service providers, carried out their responsibilities under federal law to protect and meet the needs of adults who receive Medicaid benefits for community-based services. The audit found that DHHS failed to:
- Properly monitor and hold accountable the community-based providers who care for adults with developmental disabilities.
- Investigate the deaths of 133 Mainers in the program. Law enforcement did not open investigations into any of those deaths. The auditors found that nine of the deaths were unexplained, suspicious or untimely, and that there was not enough information about another 32 deaths to determine whether they were unexplained, suspicious or untimely.
- Report potential abuse, neglect and exploitation cases to law enforcement.
- Provide reports of rights violations to the state contractor paid to investigate such allegations.