New York State has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit brought on behalf of three developmentally disabled women who were abused and neglected at a Bronx group home. The state will pay the women $6 million in compensation, even after it spent $5.7 million defending the suit.
In addition to the compensation payments, the state has also agreed to turn the facility over to a private nonprofit agency that will install its own employees to run the facility. This was a provision insisted upon by the plaintiffs, who had lost any faith that the State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities was capable of running the home safely.
Another settlement provision orders employees named in the lawsuit to have no further contact with the plaintiffs.
Neglect, punishment and beatings reported
The allegations are stark. The New York Times reported that residents were allegedly both physically abused and neglected at the Union Avenue IRA. Workers reportedly forced some residents into freezing showers. The staff allegedly hit and kicked residents, spit in their faces and left them with bruises and black eyes.
Moreover, the lawsuit claimed that there was a culture of retaliation against whistleblowers. For example, even though one whistleblower’s anonymous reports of staff misconduct were fully substantiated by investigators, none of the wrongdoers was fired. Instead, they were sent to arbitration proceedings, which typically resulted only in their being moved to new jobs in the same system.
The Union Avenue IRA is made up of three group homes and houses around two dozen residents with developmental disabilities. It is among over 1,000 state-run group homes for this population. The settlement applies only to Union Avenue.
According to the Times, part of the $6 million will be set aside for attorney fees. The rest will be placed in special needs trusts for the three plaintiffs.
The sister of one of the plaintiffs hopes that the changeover to the private nonprofit company will take place quickly. She wants all of the residents at Union Avenue to “be able to live happy lives; lives that are not lived in fear of what’s going to happen to them next.”
Whether it’s the state or a private company, those who run group homes for vulnerable adults have a legal responsibility to provide a reasonably safe living environment. Yet group homes, nursing homes and assisted living facilities fail to do so far too often. If your loved one has been abused or neglected at a group living facility, you should contact an attorney for assistance.