Disturbing details from Beatrice report

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October 7th, 2011

Omaha, NE – Gov. Dave Heineman called the new allegations of abuse at the Beatrice State Developmental Center “disgusting” on Friday, as more details paint a disturbing picture of what occurred at the Center, which houses developmentally disabled residents.

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In a press conference Friday morning, Heineman said he is “frustrated” and “angry” after hearing about new allegations of what the Department of Health and Human Services is calling “sadistic” abuse at Beatrice.
“These are a bunch of individuals who acted totally inappropriate,” Heineman said. “It’s totally disgusting what they did; they ought to be ashamed of themselves for what they did.”

The details in the investigative report are disturbing. It lists five staffers, whose names have been redacted, as perpetrators of routine abuse against at least six residents.

In investigative interviews with both residents and employees, an alarming picture emerged of staffers slapping and punching residents into submission, kicking at least one resident in the head with boots, and choking others into unconsciousness. The alleged incidents are numerous, and have a torturous feel – the abuse apparently takes place while others stand around and laugh.

Many of the residents interviewed are severely developmentally disabled, are non-verbal, or have limited verbal ability. But they were able to demonstrate some of the incidents for the investigators. One resident indicated he had been hit in the groin with a ball, and punched in the stomach until he vomited. Many were uncomfortable during the interviews, and afraid to share details of the abuse, out of an apparent fear of retaliation.

In employee interviews, some also said they feared retaliation. One employee described incidents where staffers fed hot peppers and jalapenos to a resident, who was supposed to be on a diet of pureed food, until his eyes watered and he began to cough, while other staffers laughed.

Investigators also found further evidence of misconduct by searching employee’s lockers. In one, they found a defaced photograph of a resident, with a racial slur written across it in black marker. In another employee’s locker, a Christmas card addressed to one resident from his father was found, along with a $50 Walmart gift card.

The investigation was sparked by a former employee of BSDC, who came forward with initial allegations in September.

There, the former employee said there was routine abuse during the day shift at the 106 Kennedy unit and that the perpetrators knew how to hide it. The former employee also said he/she has heard similar things happen at the 108 Kennedy unit, but has not witnessed it. The former employee also said the supervisor would only act if he witnessed the abuse first-hand.

An investigation was immediately launched by the Nebraska State Patrol, and the findings were provided to a legislative committee and the press this week.

These allegations come as BSDC continues to try to recover from earlier allegations of abuse and neglect that caused it to be disqualified from federal funding in 2009. In this morning’s press conference, Governor Heineman said he’s confident Jodi Fenner, who heads DHHS’ Division of Developmental Services, will hold the abusers accountable. And he praised her for moving BSDC in “the right direction” and for making progress in re-certifying the center and restoring federal funding.

“I am very, very confident that Jodi Fenner will take the appropriate action,” Heineman said, “because she’s done a great job of turning BSDC around. You talk to any family down there, you talk to the residents down there; they appreciate what Jodi has brought to the table. It’s clear as we’ve already been re-certified in three units already that Jodi’s done an absolutely outstanding job.”

In a legislative committee hearing at the Capitol Friday, Jodi Fenner called the alleged abuses “appalling.” Several staff members have already been suspended, including those who allegedly perpetrated the abuse, and others who witnessed it and did not report it.

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