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Williamss testimony on the MRDDA, June 1, 2000
COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
May 26, 2000
Mayor Anthony A. Williams
Dear Mayor Williams:
We are pleased that you will appear before our committees at 9 a.m. Thursday in the chamber to respond to testimony on the public record concerning the administration's actions last year related to the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration. As you know, we are reviewing communication and response issues in an effort to assure that any issues of similar gravity are addressed in a more timely fashion than occurred in this instance. Specific areas we would like to address follow:
1. Information that went directly to the Mayor
February 24, 1999, memorandum from Jearline Williams to you notifying you of the upcoming Washington Post article about services to persons with mental retardation and developmental disabilities.
March 17, 1999, memorandum from Corporation Counsel John Ferren to you summarizing legal issues in removing District wards from group homes including whether "a life-threatening situation exists," and whether another placement is available.
May 3, 1999, memorandum to you from Patrick Canavan through Norman Dong recounting your meeting with Eunice Kennedy Shriver, including comments by Jearline Williams on "the need for strategic planning" since "it is not working for our clients."
2. Information available that could have/should have gone to the Mayor for resolution:
February 10, 1999, briefing memo reviewed by Norman Dong including notes that "group homes have deficiencies that threaten the health and safety of clients," "physical abuse committed by provider staff," "the 1997 death of MRDDA customer Fred Brandenberg."
February 26, 1999, memo from Carolyn Graham to Norman Dong highlighting issues for his "assignment and resolution" including the lack of rules for licensing group homes, and the recommendation that "corrective measures, designed to clarify legislative and regulatory authority, and administrative procedures for special care facilities be taken immediately."
March 14, 1999, Washington Post article detailing abuse and neglect of wards of the District including this information: "More than 350 incidents of abuse, neglect, molestation or stealing have been documented in group homes and day programs ....[involving] companies that collectively run 70% of the city's .group homes."
March 15, 1999, Council testimony by Deputy DHS Director Wayne Casey that "these issues require a coordinated and comprehensive interagency response since the responsibility for addressing many of them fall outside the purview of MRDDA and DHS."
March 16, 1999, memorandum from Jearline Williams to Inspector General Barrett Prettyman requesting an "urgent" investigation "given the threat to life and safety of this vulnerable population."
May 4, 1999, front page Washington Post report that "The U.S. Justice Department has begun a special probe into the quality of care at District government-funded facilities for the mentally retarded" based on the March articles detailing 350 cases of abuse and neglect. The article quotes Jearline Williams welcoming the Civil Rights Division and FBI investigations.
June 3, 1999, letter from the Department of Justice to the Office of Corporation Counsel outlining Justice concerns that "the safety and welfare" of 17 wards of the District (and Evans class members) "may be at risk."
June 24, 1999, front burner report from Jearline Williams to Norman Dong recounting a second MRDDA death and another FOI request from the Post for a story that "will attempt to expose negligence among MRDDA providers and show a correlation between negligence and the deteriorated health and eventual death of MRDDA customers."
August 5, 1999, Department of Justice Consultants Report in Evans v. Williams received by the Office of Corporation Counsel and forwarded to the Department of Human Services detailing specific threats to health and safety of wards of the District including "overuse of psychotropic medications and/or restraints" and "class members not receiving adequate food."
August 26, 1999, memorandum from Jearline William to Norman Dong asking for "immediate attention" to the "need for greater service delivery coordination among agencies" related to MRDDA and information concerning deaths of MRDDA customers.
December 1, 1999, letter from Jearline Williams to Norman Dong noting "we expect a followup expose shortly" from the Washington Post.
December 2, 1999, written briefing on the upcoming Washington Post story on deaths in the District's MRDDA network forwarded to Norman Dong, Abdusalam Omer, Carolyn Graham and Peggy Armstrong from Jearline Williams including "an extraordinary number of deaths from aspiratory pneumonia" and the failure of the District to "conduct 90% of the autopsies of decedents that should have been conducted."
3. Followup on the issue of accountability
On several occasions, including in a December 7, 1999, Washington Post article, you have said that government employees "from top to bottom ....will be held accountable for services to these residents." In January 2000 Deputy Mayor Carolyn Graham rejected a recommendation from Chere Calloway that additional questions be raised with members of the Williams Administration concerning what took place in the preceding months. We would like you to respond to the same question asked of Deputy Mayor Graham and Chief of Staff Abdusalam Omer earlier this week: how have you operationalized that pledge to hold staff accountable and is that an ongoing effort or one already concluded?
We can raise these issues in questions during the hearing or you can address these issues in an opening statement, or a combination of the two. And of course we welcome any other general comments you would like to make on this issue, including your sense of progress and commitment to improving services.
May 31, 2000
The Honorable Sandy Allen
The Honorable Kathy Patterson
Dear Chairpersons Allen and Patterson,
I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your letter regarding the Committee on Human Services and the Committee on Government Operations joint hearing on the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration. I share your concern for safeguarding the life and safety of our vulnerable citizens in the MRDD system. Indeed, I am outraged that our government has so consistently failed these residents for more than two decades.
You inquired about correspondence that came to the Executive Office of the Mayor and to me. Without responding to each specific instance you described, I have always been clear in stating that I was aware that the mental retardation system had many problems; indeed, it has been under court order for nearly two decades. I have seen several pieces of correspondence from the former Director of Human Services, Jearline Williams, regarding MRDDA and I have read the Washington Post articles on the subject. We recently reviewed the documentation put forward by Director Williams during 1999. Given the information that we had received at the time, my staff made decisions and took actions that were appropriate.
It was my belief, based on the documentation and Director Williams' statements to me, that Director Williams was aware of problems in the system, that she had a plan to resolve those systemic problems, and that clients had been removed from situations where a threat had been identified. I want to clearly state that at no time did any documentation from Director Williams or any other source indicate that there were ongoing imminent threats to the life and safety of mentally retarded or developmentally disabled persons. With regard to the Washington Post articles, Director William indicated that these were historic problems, rather than continuing issues.
Some of the quotations in your information items seem to focus on only one aspect of the correspondence at issue, without taking into account whether the same communication that outlines problems also gives assurances that the situation was being addressed. I urge the Committees to review the entire communication in question rather than only viewing a portion, so that distortion through deduction does not occur.
It now appears that the plan to rebuild MRDDA failed to transform the dysfunctional system. I wish we had known earlier so that we could have acted earlier. However, once we became aware of the serious and ongoing nature of the problems, we acted quickly. I will not repeat the details of our actions, which have already been outlined during the Deputy Mayors' testimony about our plans to build an appropriate system of care. I would ask that you and members of the Committees give full consideration to these plans and help us create a system that serves our vulnerable citizens.
Your letter also raises the issue of accountability and implicitly questions whether all of those responsible were held accountable. No one believes more strongly in the notion of accountability than I do. I have never hesitated to remove managers whom I felt were not living up to their responsibilities to our city. Indeed, when I learned of the ongoing problems in the MRDD system and that imminent threats still existed, I took the unprecedented step of removing the top layer of leadership from the agency. Nonetheless, as many people have noted, there is enough blame to go around. As elected leaders and guardians of the public trust, our first and only priority as we move forward is to restore faith in this government and ensure that these failures are not allowed to happen again.
I think one other area warrants comment. Deputy Mayor Graham evaluated Chere Calloway's recommendation that others, including the D.C. Council, be investigated. After careful review Deputy Mayor Graham determined. that the reasons given for investigating others were not supported by the data.
Finally, on the subject of accountability,
from the start I have championed a full and open inquiry into each branch of the
government charged with oversight or management responsibilities for MRDDA. I call your
attention to the communication I had with the Council in February 2000 requesting that the
Council join with me in asking for an independent investigation of all of those identified
in Ms. Calloway's letter. While the Council chose to go its own way on hearings, my
demands for accountability have been consistent and strong.
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