by Max Brantley
Today we received a copy of the Disability Rights of Arkansas report on the Booneville Human Development Center. We are acutely aware of the condition of the buildings on campus and have similar concerns about the physical plant itself. Improvements are needed, but they would take a great deal of money that we do not currently have. So, instead, were are doing everything we can to ensure the residents are safe and comfortable. That includes not using certain buildings or floors of buildings and limiting resident access to only places that we feel they can safely visit. Our staff are ever mindful of the conditions of buildings and work hard to keep residents and the public alike away from potential hazards. We have made repairs, including to roofs and plumbing, when funding allows.
A master plan from 2011 places the price tag for removing, repairing or replacing all the buildings at Booneville at least $20 million.
The Arkansas Building Authority has been working on an assessment of the physical plants of all our HDCS, assessing the actual infrastructure itself. ABA’s findings are expected out later this year. In addition, a task force made up of parents of people with developmental disabilities and other interested stakeholders has been working for some time to determine the future needs of this population in Arkansas. The task force is expected to issue a report and recommendations this summer.
Once we have those assessments and recommendations, I think we will have a better feeling of potential costs and on how best to move forward.
I want to emphasize that the dilapidated areas that were photographed and included in the DRA report are not areas where residents live. It’s also important to note that the photo depicting bags of “trash” in one building is actually a photo of bags filled with loops of fabrics that residents use to make rugs they sell to the public.
Interim DDS Director Jim Brader did ask for more information about access to the third floor in the Hamp-Williams building that was mentioned in the report. Today, it has been determined that there is an unsecured stairway leading to the third floor of the building. Brader instructed maintenance to secure the stairway. He also asked staff to visit the living quarters where DRA reported seeing possible mold near a ceiling vent. That vent was in a kitchen. It had a mixture of dust and grease - not mold - and has been cleaned. House-cleaning also checked all vents in living areas, and cleaned them when necessary.
The report also alleges that restraints are used for disciplinary purposes at the facility. Though DRA has previously discussed restraints with DDS officials, no information about restraints being used in that manner was ever provided. Booneville has a strict policy that restraints are not to be used as punishment, and Interim Director Brader has asked DRA officials for any information they might have suggesting that policy has been violated. If that has happened, appropriate action will be taken.
There is a process for oversight of restraints. First, when a mechanical restraint is used, a nurse is required to check on the resident. If that can’t be done immediately, the nurse will check the resident after the use of the restraint. Each morning, an administrative team reviews all incident reports from the previous 24 hours. In addition, a member of the psychology team reviews each use of restraints and the accompanying narrative reports. The Office of Long Term Care, which provides federal oversight of the facility, also does an annual review that includes random review of files (some with restraint reports).
The number of times restraints are used at Booneville tends to trend higher than other HDCs, and we believe that relates to the fact that Booneville specializes in serving only intellectually or developmental disabled, ambulatory individuals with severe behavioral challenges, including behavior that has resulted in interaction with the criminal justice system or previous hospitalizations.
“We take good care of the clients here with the budget we have, and will continue to do so,” said Booneville HDC Superintendent Jeff Gonyea. “We always have their best interest at the heart of what we do.”
Other important things to note:
Re: residents should be given opportunity to live in least restrictive setting:
Every year residents and their guardians are given an opportunity to choose an alternative setting in the community, if they so choose. Booneville has a full-time employee on staff that works with families interested in transitioning loved ones back into the community. If they choose to stay at an HDC, continued admission is based on the individual needs and unique characteristics of each resident. Every effort is made to serve individuals in the most therapeutic setting possible.
Re: campus not easily accessible for people in wheelchairs:
Because of the accessibility issues, it is the policy of the Booneville HDC that only people who are ambulatory can reside at that facility.