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O.C. caregivers urged to leave phones home

Times Staff Writer

The video made national news: a worker caught on a cellphone video repeatedly striking a developmentally disabled man as he cowered in fear and moaned.

In the weeks following the discovery, the administrators overseeing Orange County’s programs for the developmentally disabled have declined to discipline the adult day-care program in Anaheim where the abuse occurred, saying they were isolated incidents.

But officials did encourage workers not to bring cellphones to work and to use the video function only in emergencies away from the facility.

The cellphone memo was distributed Feb. 13 -- less than two weeks after news reports of the abuse video -- and was intended for the hundreds of caregivers providing group homes, daytime activities, transportation and other services to 15,000 of the county’s developmentally disabled.

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Officials of Orange County Regional Center, the nonprofit organization the state established to administer tax-funded contracts for services for the developmentally disabled in the county, said the cellphone policy had been in the works long before the video scandal.

Instances of abuse of the developmentally disabled are notoriously difficult to uncover because many clients have difficulty expressing themselves and do not always come into frequent contact with the outside world.

The meeting where the memo was distributed was sponsored by the Regional Center. According to the agency’s minutes of a Feb. 13 meeting, Bill Bowman, executive director of the Regional Center, talked to service providers about the cellphone advisory in the context of his agency’s response to the video scandal. He also offered the services of a public relations firm to coach caregivers how to talk to the news media.

Bowman’s assistant said that Bowman was too ill to speak.

One video, shot March 22, 2006, shows a disabled man being slapped twice while attending a day program at the Jossen Vocational Academy in Anaheim. A man off-camera is heard laughing. When the disabled man groans and pulls away, someone off-camera begins to clap.

The other video, shot April 12, 2006, shows a man leaning against a toilet. In the 30-second video, someone slaps the man three times as he lets out high-pitched wails and puts both hands up to his face to ward off the blows.

The abuse was discovered when the employee who allegedly taped the abuse sold the phone to another Jossen employee. When the buyer viewed it, he reported it to Jossen officials, who contacted police.

Two former employees of the day program, Patrick John Solis, 22, and Michael Douglas Rama, 24, have been charged in the attacks and are awaiting trial.

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In response to questions from The Times about the cellphone memo, officials from the Regional Center tried to distance the agency from the memo, saying it was written by a group of caregivers and that it was distributed at an agency meeting that covered many topics.

“We certainly want to discover any instances of abuse,” said Janis White, the chief operating officer.

White and Doug Miller, who supervises service provider contracts, said the memo was written in response to a longtime problem of employees using cellphones, iPods and other electronic devices while they were supposed to be supervising clients.

Additionally, one service provider recently videotaped a client to show the behavior to another employee. The family of the client objected, White said.

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Joyce Hearn, chief executive of Orange County ARC, an agency that provides work and other services for the developmentally disabled, said she and other caregivers had worked on the suggested policy for cellphones and other electronics for years.

It wasn’t completed until the discovery of the abuse at Jossen, however, and it addressed only cellphones.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com


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