Positive report for Beatrice State Developmental Center
January 5th, 2015
Lincoln, NE – Jodi Fenner has been the director of the Beatrice State Developmental Disabilities Center in southeast Nebraska for the past five years.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/BSDC-Update-KVNO.mp3]
This week, she led me on a tour on the centerâ€™s sprawling campus. As we entered the centerâ€™s vocational building, I observed classrooms with residents participating in activities designed to improve life skills and encourage active learning. Instructors worked one-on-one with residents in a positive environment.
For any observer, it could be hard to picture the center’s tumultuous past.
The Beatrice State Developmental Center has been the subject of controversy since federal investigators uncovered hundreds of cases of alleged patient abuse and neglect in 2007.Â The center has dealt with wrongful death lawsuits over inadequate care, the loss of its Medicaid license, and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The center that houses and works with developmentally disabled Nebraskans finally regained federal funding in 2012. According to Jodi Fenner, the Director of the Division of Developmental Services with the Department of Health and Human Services,Â that came after working toward the terms set by a compliance agreement between the Department of Justice, Governor Dave Heinemanâ€™s office, and the BSDC back in 2008.
â€œWe put together a comprehensive team to put together a compliance plan,â€ Fenner said. â€œVery quickly we were able to reorganize the facility, make some changes in community-based services, and build some quality assurance systems and investigative systems to address those needs. We did a lot of work in a very short amount of time.â€œ
Federal oversight has still continued to this day, but to a lesser degree because of noted improvements made to the centerâ€™s staff and organization under Fennerâ€™s watch. The latest report from an independent expert with the DOJ has now recommended even less supervision. The report praised the center for rewritten regulations, improved staff training, and a revamping of services for residents- all of which has lead Fenner to believe an end may be near for federal oversight altogether.
â€œSo weâ€™ve been under less scrutiny over the past year, and at this point in time, we donâ€™t believe we need further court involvement to continue with the processes that are in place,â€ Fenner explained. â€œItâ€™s important to note that when we fixed the issues with BSDC and community DD services, we didnâ€™t just create interim solutions, we created systemic change.â€
Although the BDSC may have finally found the right path, State Senator Steve Lathrop has said itâ€™s taken too long to get there.
â€œThat should have taken about two years to accomplish and weâ€™re six years down the road and it hasnâ€™t been completed,â€ Lathrop said.
Lathrop has served as state senator for District 12 since 2006. Heâ€™s chaired the stateâ€™s legislative Developmental Disabilities Special Investigation Committee since 2008.Â The committee was designed as additional oversight of BSDCâ€™s compliance, and to hold the centerâ€™s administration to task in improving its services.
â€œThe individuals that call BSDC home deserve to have a place where they are free from abuse, where they are getting habilitation- which is to say they are being improved in their circumstance so they can be as independent as their circumstances will permit. That really is the goal,â€ Lathrop said.
There have been speed bumps along the way. In 2011, several workers were charged with abusing residents. Sixteen center employees were fired or suspended following an investigation into the alleged abuses. Most entered pleas to reduced charges. Lathrop said things like that keep memories of the BSDCâ€™s troubled history alive, especially for family members whose relatives are currently under the centerâ€™s care.
Thatâ€™s been a sentiment shared by the advocacy groupÂ Disability Rights Nebraska.
â€œWe are cautiously optimistic that theyâ€™re improving, but theyâ€™re certainly not a perfect facility,â€ said Bryan Craig, the DRNâ€™s staff attorney.
â€œWe receive weekly incident reports from BSDC and some of those incident reports involve allegations of abuse or neglect, or involve an incident that at least raises a question in our mind as to whether there is or might be some form of abuse or neglect,â€ Craig said.
Craig added the DRN plans to continue actively monitoring operations at BSDC regardless of the DOJâ€™s decision.
Fenner said she expects to know the DOJâ€™s ruling within the next few months. In the meantime, sheâ€™s remained optimistic about BSDCâ€™s future. Â And she hasnâ€™t been alone. Despite acting as probably the centerâ€™s harshest critic, Senator Lathrop said he gives credit where credit isÂ due for how far the centerâ€™s come.
â€œI think in a big picture way that Jodie Fennerâ€™s done a good job of bringing the Beatrice State Developmental Center back to where it should be, or on the course back to where it should be,â€ Lathrop said.
While Fenner has acknowledged there are challenges ahead, she said one of her teamâ€™s biggest goals has already been met.
â€œBDSC is just a different place than it was many, many years ago,â€ Fenner said. â€œIt is very much like a home environment. Weâ€™re proud of being able to accomplish that. Itâ€™s one thing to meet their medical and clinical needs and do habilitation to meet federal standards, but to actually give people homes is something to be proud of.â€
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