WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today reached a court-enforceable settlement agreement with the Commonwealth of Kentucky regarding civil rights violations at the Communities at Oakwood (Oakwood), a center for persons with developmental disabilities, in Somerset, Ken. The five-year agreement requires the Commonwealth to implement reforms to ensure that individual residents at the facility are adequately protected from harm and provided adequate supports and services. The agreement replaces and strengthens a 2004 out-of-court settlement between the Department and the Commonwealth.
“It is a Justice Department priority to protect the civil rights of all Americans, including these vulnerable institutionalized persons,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “People in the care of the Commonwealth are entitled to be safe and provided with adequate treatment.”
“We are constantly striving to protect our most vulnerable citizens,” said Amul R. Thapar, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky. “This agreement is a very positive step in that direction.”
The Department reviewed the facility after reaching the 2004 settlement and found that numerous ongoing civil rights violations continued at Oakwood. Specifically, the Department found that the facility fails to protect individuals from harm; fails to provide adequate supports and services to individuals, including behavioral, psychology and psychiatric services, general medical and nursing care, and physical and nutritional therapy; and fails to ensure adequate discharge planning and placement in the most appropriate, integrated setting. The facility also received 22 citations in 2005 and 2006 from the Commonwealth's own Office of Inspector General for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, including preventable deaths, sexual abuse, and failure to adequately address residents' maladaptive behaviors. Furthermore, Commonwealth prosecutors have criminally charged numerous Oakwood staff for abuse of residents.
Two serious incidents occurred in recent months: one in which four staff were charged with beating a resident with a broom handle on several occasions, and another other incident in which four staff were charged with beating a resident and fracturing his nose. In addition, a former Oakwood female staff member was sentenced earlier this month to serve two years for dragging a resident by her shirt collar, hitting her with a shoe, and slamming her head into a wall.
Under the terms of the agreement filed in court today, the Commonwealth will implement a remedial plan to correct all of the violations identified by the Department and will submit to court supervision of its efforts.
The Civil Rights Division conducted its investigation pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act of 1980 (CRIPA). The statute allows the federal government to identify and root out systemic abuses such as those identified in this case, rather than focus on individual civil rights violations.
The Civil Rights Division has successfully resolved similar investigations of other facilities for persons with developmental disabilities in states including Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Tennessee, and in the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The Division has pending investigations of facilities for persons with developmental disabilities in Arkansas, California, Missouri, Texas, and Washington.
The Department of Justice's CRIPA enforcement effort reaches beyond facilities for persons with developmental disabilities. Since 2001, the Department of Justice has opened 64 investigations into the terms and conditions of confinement at nursing homes, mental health facilities, residences for persons with developmental disabilities, juvenile justice facilities, jails and prisons.
More information about the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division can be found at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/split/index.html.