Md. agency cancels contract after death of teen girl

Bryan P. Sears//October 17, 2016

Md. agency cancels contract after death of teen girl

By Bryan P. Sears

//October 17, 2016

A state agency is transferring developmentally disabled youths and canceling its contract with a for-profit Delaware company after the death of a 15-year-old Maryland girl.

Katherine Morris, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, said the contract with AdvoServ of Bear, Delaware, will be terminated on Oct. 31 and that the Maryland agency is moving all its clients to other facilities before the end of the month.

“Understandably, our agency and caseworkers were hit hard by this tragedy, and even though we are a human services agency, the death of a child is never news that is easy to process,” Morris said in a statement. “We are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of this youth, as the safety and well-being of those in our care is our top priority. DHR is in close contact with the authorities in Delaware who are investigation this incident.”

DHR places into the facilities youth up to the age of 21 who were either already in foster care or under a voluntary agreement with parents. In both cases, the youngsters have developmental disabilities that require constant and specialized care not available at facilities in the state, Morris said.

“Youth placed by DHR at AdvoServ typically have significant developmental and intellectual disabilities in addition to behavioral challenges,” Morris said. “Any Maryland youth placed with an out-of-state provider is in urgent need of critical services that existing Maryland facilities are not able to provide at the time of placement.”

As of Monday, the agency had one youth still in an AdvoServ facility in Delaware, down from 30 on Aug. 30. There is also one youth in an AdvoServ home in Florida.

Morris said the girl in Florida “is in care under a voluntary placement by her mother, who resides in Florida. DHR is working with this youth’s mother and the local social services agency and authorities in Florida to develop a plan for the youth’s long-term care.”

The termination of the contract follows the death of a 15-year-old Maryland girl who was a resident of the AdvoServ facility in Bear, Delaware. The for-profit company provides highly specialized care for the developmentally disabled.

It is not clear when the girl was sent to the facility or if she had been in other residential programs prior to being sent to AdvoServ. Morris declined to comment, citing confidentiality.

A Delaware police spokesman declined to name the girl though a Wilmington News Journal report refers to her as “Janaia.”

Cpl. Jeffrey R. Hale, a spokesman for the Delaware State Police, said in an email the girl was taken to the Christiana Medical Center on Sept. 12 after the “onset of an acute medical condition.” She was later transferred to the Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, where she died on Sept. 14.

The Delaware Division of Forensic Science is conducting an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Hale declined to release additional information, citing the investigation.

Morris, who also declined to discuss the incident, said the agency has had a contract with AdvoServe since 2012.

The death of the teen comes a month after the state performed two unannounced inspections on AdvoServe facilities in Delaware.

Morris said the reports of those visits were not publicly available but described the violations found as record-keeping and minor facilities’ issues in the residential and common areas. She said those were akin to “broken cabinets or light fixtures.”

“There weren’t any violations of safety or well-being,” Morris said.

But the agency decided to act on those reports and imposed a moratorium on additional placements at the facilities, including those that were pending, Morris said.

Following the death, the agency began requiring daily visitations by state social workers to monitor the facilities until children could be moved. Morris could not immediately say how often state case workers would normally visit the facilities to monitor youths placed there.

A representative for AdvoServ did not respond to a request for comment.

The company, which operates three group facilities in Delaware, on its website says it “serves the needs of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and severe behavioral challenges.”

This is not the first time AdvoServ has come under scrutiny for deaths of residents it was paid to care for or for the use of so-called mechanical restraints including wrist cuffs and devices called mat wraps, a full-body straight jacket device that some say causes injuries, according to a 2015 investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization.

In its report, ProPublica noted that Advoserv’s Carlton Palms facility in Florida “is one of a dozen residential programs nationwide where two or more children have died in separate incidents from potentially preventable causes.” The report noted that one 14-year-old girl who died at the facility after reportedly being tied to a bed and a chair.

Maryland prohibits the use of mechanical restraints, according to Leslie Margolis, managing attorney for Disability Rights Maryland.

Margolis was involved several years ago in negotiating an agreement between AdvoServ and the Maryland State Department of Education to end the use of mat wraps.

While federal law does not specifically forbid the use of the devices, it does prohibit facilities operating in one state from using techniques of devices banned in the resident’s home state, Margolis said.

William Reinhard, a spokesman for the state education department, said it was not immediately known if that agency also had students placed in AdvoServ facilities.

Margolis declined to discuss specifics of the September death because her organization is federally mandated to independently review the incident.

“We’ve had a lot of concerns about this place,” said Margolis.  “There is a lot of history to this place.”

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