DMH releases abuse figures for Marshall Habilitation Center

Monday, December 13, 2004

With an investigation which began in early September continuing into safety and quality concerns at the Marshall Habilitation Center, the Missouri Department of Mental Health has released figures on abuse and neglect in the Marshall facility for the mentally disabled.

The review of MHC began after the death of George Holmes, a mildly retarded resident of a similar facility, the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center. Hours before his death, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported, Holmes had called his stepmother complaining of being abused.

St. Louis Medical Examiner Mary Case reported an autopsy of Holmes showed he had died of natural causes. Extreme agitation was said to have caused his heart to beat unevenly until it failed. The cause of bruises and scrapes on his face and side were left undetermined.

The figures released show that, between Jan. 1, 2003 and Dec. 2, 2004, the Department of Mental Health completed 230 investigations of alleged abuse and neglect incidents at the Marshall Habilitation Center. Of those investigations, 30 allegations were substantiated by investigators; 18 for class II neglect, seven for verbal abuse and five for physical abuse.

MHC Superintendent Mary Fangmann said the large number of investigations, which works to just under one investigation for every three days, is due to the center's dedication to searching out problems. "We serve a vulnerable population, and as a result, we investigate everything to ensure that there is no problem or to clarify what the problem is," she said.

The 30 abuse and neglect incidents over the almost two year period resulted in 30 disciplinary actions. Any employee committing physical abuse was fired, Fangmann said. Two incidents of verbal or class II neglect, or a combination of the two, also results in employee dismissal.

Disciplinary action for a single violation of verbal or class II neglect vary, Fangmann said. "Every case is very individualized ... It's hard to give you a cookie-cutter approach to it."

"I think the staff is very focussed on creating a safe environment," Fangmann said. "These are vulnerable people that we take care of and we need to supply that for them."

Jeanne Henry, DMH spokeswoman, said the Marshall Habilitation Center was an excellent example of a well-run habilitation center and the staff had been very cooperative with the ongoing review. "We couldn't ask for anyone to be any more supportive and cooperative than Mary [Fangmann] and her staff," Henry said. "You've got a great hab center in your area."

Fangmann thanked the local community for support, especially over the last decade. "We are a major participant in our community," Fangmann said, citing MHC involvement in programs such as student job shadowing and community theater, as well as the holiday decorations currently on display around the campus, many of which have been put together by community groups connected to the center.

The center is the second largest of its kind in Missouri, serving approximately 300 people. The only larger is Bellefontaine Habilitation Center with approximately 350 residents.

There are currently seven investigations into abuse or neglect being conducted at MHC.

Contact Matt Heger at

marshallfaith@socket.net

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