U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy is calling for a nationwide investigation into the "alarming number of deaths and cases of abuse" of developmentally disabled individuals at government-financed residential facilities.
Murphy sent a letter to the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services Monday, requesting an immediate investigation, with an emphasis on preventable deaths at privately run group homes.
"Privatization of care may mean lower costs but without the proper oversight and requirements for well-trained staff," Murphy wrote to Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson. "While individuals with developmental disabilities may not be able to speak for themselves, we are not absolved of the responsibility to care for them in a humane and fair manner."
Murphy was responding to stories in The Courant reporting on abuse and neglect of developmentally disabled residents in Connecticut group homes, state-run institutions, nursing homes and hospitals.
The series revealed that state investigators cited neglect in the deaths of 76 adults with developmental disabilities who were receiving services from the state Department of Developmental Services. One was placed in a scalding hot bathtub. Several choked to death despite protocols designed to address swallowing issues. A number showed signs of medical distress but received inadequate intervention.
Murphy said similar stories have appeared in newspapers in Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Louisiana and Texas.
"There's clearly a volume of evidence — of journalistic evidence — over the last couple of years that this is a serious problem," Murphy said Monday. "So we're going to see if we can get a federal review here."
As a state senator, Murphy secured a moratorium on the privatization of group homes for the developmentally disabled. Since the moratorium expired in 2009, Murphy said, about 50 state-run homes have been converted to privately run homes.
Most of the deaths reported by The Courant involved residents of privately run facilities, but that is also where most of those in the system live. Murphy said the investigation he is seeking is not limited to private facilities, but said he is concerned that standards have slipped as private providers have become more common.
"I have always thought that we were privatizing too fast and that we didn't have enough concern for how to provide oversight over those private providers," Murphy said.
State officials have generally praised private providers, while also acknowledging the pressures of shrinking budgets and low wages for care workers.