Maryland’s Move to Pull Children From Group Homes Came Too Late for Teenager Who Died

Source: Heather Vogell, ProPublica, October 13, 2016

Once again, government actions against a controversial for-profit company’s chain of group homes for the disabled may have come too late to protect a child. ProPublica has learned that Maryland had begun pulling about 30 children out of homes owned and managed by AdvoServ in August, but hadn’t yet relocated a teenage girl when she died a month later after being manually restrained by staff. … Maryland, which plans to terminate its contract with AdvoServ at the end of this month, isn’t the only state to have increased its scrutiny of the company since the ProPublica series. In March, Delaware placed the company on probation, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families said. In June, Florida officials said they had begun moving clients out of the company’s facility in the state, and stationed an investigator there. Through a spokesman, the company declined to comment on the decisions by Maryland and Delaware regulators. AdvoServ’s shortcomings add to the growing concerns about for-profit companies taking over delivery of human services, from prisons to hospice care, that were traditionally provided by government or non-profit agencies. … Officials elsewhere have repeatedly backed off from sanctioning the company, which is aided by well-connected lobbyists that include prominent former state legislators. In 2012, for example, Florida reneged on plans to bar an AdvoServ home, where both adults and a child had allegedly been punched and kicked, from accepting new clients for a year. … The girl was not the first teenager to die at an AdvoServ home. In 1997, a 14-year-old autistic boy with epilepsy was found dead in his bed with low levels of anti-seizure medicine in his blood. In 2013, a 14-year-old autistic girl died at the company’s Florida home after a night in which she was restrained — at times fastened to a bed and chair — while she vomited repeatedly. …

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Teenage Girl Dies After Incident at For-profit Group Home
Source: Heather Vogell, ProPublica, September 20, 2016

A teenage girl died last week after an incident at a group home in Delaware run by a for-profit company, AdvoServ, whose long record of problematic treatment ProPublica chronicled last year. Attorney Chris Gowen, who has a lawsuit against AdvoServ concerning a different teen, said he has learned workers were manually restraining the girl when she became unresponsive. He and his clients have spoken to current and former workers about the incident. … Delaware state police and regulators also haven’t said what happened to the 15-year-old from Maryland. The state medical examiner’s office is conducting an autopsy, but a spokeswoman said the results will not be made public. Maryland is one of several states that send difficult cases to AdvoServ because they cannot find beds and schooling closer to home. The company, which is owned by a private equity firm, is based in Delaware and reported last year that it cared for roughly 700 children and adults in that state, Florida, and New Jersey, and was expanding into Virginia. …

… The girl is not the first child to die under questionable circumstances at AdvoServ’s homes and schools. In 2013, Paige Lunsford, 14 and autistic, died at the company’s Florida complex after a night in which she was restrained – at times latched to a bed and chair – while she vomited repeatedly. And in 1997, 14-year-old Jon Henley, who was autistic and had epilepsy, was found dead in his bed one morning after an apparent seizure. An autopsy revealed low levels of anti-seizure medication in his blood. Regulators in multiple states have fielded decades of complaints of abuse, neglect and inadequate medical care at AdvoServ facilities. … A former worker for AdvoServ in Delaware, who asked that his name not be used, said he left three years ago in part because he felt staff did not receive enough training in deescalating conflicts or restraining clients. The company had been trying out new restraint procedures that were supposed to make restraints less forceful by involving more staff members. But, he said, with too few staff often available to carry out the restraints as planned, “It just becomes unsafe.” …

… The company is one of the few group home operators that still use restraint devices to confine clients who become aggressive. As ProPublica has reported, AdvoServ staff used such mechanical restraints on clients at its 200-bed campus northwest of Orlando roughly 28,000 times. Florida officials said in June that they were moving clients out of AdvoServ’s complex and stationing an investigator there to provide extra oversight during the transition, which they expected to take months.