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ProPublica: 145 Deaths In Group Homes, Including Central Florida

Workers force a person trying to hurt themselves or others to lie down. Credit: Hiram Henriquez for ProPublica
Workers force a person trying to hurt themselves or others to lie down. Credit: Hiram Henriquez for ProPublica

At least 145 children have died from preventable causes in private residential group homes.

That’s the takeaway from an investigation by ProPublica looking at thousands of documents from the last 35 years. The reports looked at privately-run residential programs tucked into neighborhoods across the country and Florida.
90.7 Health Reporter Abe Aboraya spoke with ProPublica’s Heather Vogell, who wrote the story.

Check here to read Part 1 of the Unrestrained series. Check here to read Part 2 of the Unrestrained series.

ABORAYA: I want to start by talking about Carlton Palms. This is a residential program for the severely mentally disabled in Mount Dora in Central Florida. The state almost shut this facility down three years ago. Tell us why.

VOGELL: What the state wanted to do was put a moratorium on admissions for a year so they could look more deeply at the problems at the center. The state alleged some pretty severe abuse. I think the worst example of that was a child who was being restrained by workers, he was told to lie face down so he could be restrained and he was resisting. A worker kicked him in the face and choked until he almost passed out.

ABORAYA: Carlton Palms is owned by AdvoServ, which is now owned by a private equity firm. How did the company react to state regulators wanting to shut this facility down?

VOGELL: The company had its lawyer, a prominent Tallahassee lawyer who counted the former governor among his clients, respond to the state. And within two months the state and the company had settled. In that settlement, the company admitted no wrongdoing and paid no penalties. It did agree to improve video monitoring.

ABORAYA: One of the main issues you found in this investigation for ProPublica was the use of restraints. You report the are mats people were wrapped up in and people were tied to chairs … how did you find out about this?

VOGELL: Basically this is one of the things that made AdvoServ really stand out from the other providers. They've really clung to what many people consider and antiquated way to control agitated residents. And that is to use actual devices called mechanical restraints. They're things like shackles, basically straps, sometimes Velcro, sometimes leather. And the wrap mat, and this sort of understates it, but it's like becoming a human burrito. You're laid down on a mat and your arms and ankles are fixed in place and these big flaps come across the mat and completely cover you up. The company says they believe this is a safer way to manage some residents when they're agitated, but other providers have found such methods can be very traumatizing, they don't necessarily help the client learn new behaviors and they're not necessarily effective long-term in helping correct the behavior. And many people think they're inhumane.

ABORAYA: What has been AdvoServ's response?

VOGELL: The company says, and they're correct, they handle some of the most challenging people to treat. The company says we're not perfect, we do the best we can, we respond to criticism, any problems that come up, we address them responsibility. They say they're using restraints as a last resort.

See below for a longer interview with Vogell:

[audio mp3="http://www.wmfe.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Heather-Vogell-Two-Way-FULL-FOR-WEB.mp3"][/audio]