Washington Post on D.C. Group Home Case
An exasperated federal judge warned the District government yesterday that it is running out of time to demonstrate that it can make meaningful progress in improving care for physically and mentally disabled residents in its long-troubled group homes.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle expressed frustration on being told that the city had failed to meet a 90-day deadline on a court order to move a designated number of group home residents into better, safer housing; help others find assisted employment opportunities; improve health care for at-risk clients; and recruit new group home operators to provide higher-quality care.
"The fact that you can't do the things that you promised to do is a terrible indictment," Huvelle told a packed courtroom. "It's a pretty devastating admission."
Huvelle's comments came during the latest hearing in a 30-year-old class-action lawsuit that centers on the quality of care for people who are mentally disabled wards of the District, many of whom also have severe physical disabilities. The lawsuit was filed in 1976 on behalf of hundreds of residents of Forest Haven, the city's former institution for people with mental retardation.
The judge listened as various parties in the lawsuit, including those representing the District, recounted their disappointment at the city's inability to complete several initiatives aimed at showing that it could improve services for its most vulnerable citizens.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they plan to return to court in the next few weeks to seek additional legal remedies for their clients. Among the options, they said, is filing a request to have the judge place the city's Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration in receivership -- a move that could result in an outsider overseeing responsibilities.
"The time has come for a new approach," plaintiffs' counsel Cathy Costanzo of the Center for Public Representation told the judge. "Something more and something different must happen. . . . Our class members suffer daily."