On November 12, 2004, the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division ("DOJ") sent its "findings letter" to New Jersey's governor, advising him of the results of the June 2003, DOJ investigation of conditions and practices at the Woodbridge Developmental Center ("WDC"), which houses developmentally disabled persons, including those with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism, and spina bifida. The investigation occurred under the authority of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act ("CRIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997. DOJ and expert consultants visited the facility and reviewed a wide array of documents there. The investigators also conducted interviews with personnel and residents. The letter commended WDC staff and state officials for providing a high level of cooperation during the investigation and noted that many staff persons exhibited genuine concern for residents' well-being.
The DOJ advised that its investigation uncovered continuing deficiencies in resident care at WDC, in that conditions and services there substantially departed from generally accepted standards of care. Constitutional and federal statutory rights of residents at WDC were violated in several respects.
According to the DOJ, deficiencies in conditions of resident care and treatment at WDC existed as to four topic areas causing residents significant harm or risk of harm through WDC's failure to: (1) keep residents safe (e.g., inadequate supervision of residents, who also were subjected to staff neglect and abuse; disproportionate number of unexplained injuries; confirmed abusers on staff reassigned to client care without supervision; inadequate incident management, reporting and tracking); (2) provide residents with adequate behavioral services, freedom from restraint, and habilitation (e.g., inadequate, non-updated behavior programs lacking useful functional analysis of problem behaviors; inconsistent and incorrect program implementation, monitoring, evaluation, and follow-up; failure to train staff adequately to implement plans; unreasonable and excessive use on residents of restraints, padded helmets, and medications for staff convenience; poorly-trained staff which seldom engaged residents; insufficient vocational and activity programming for residents who would benefit from such services); (3) provide adequate health care (failure to meet needs of residents for psychiatric services and for nutritional and physical management; deficient and dated psychiatric assessments and diagnoses; infrequent interaction between psychiatrists and medicated residents; inadequate monitoring of medications; insufficient availability of neurological services and anti-convulsant medication monitoring; substandard mealtime, positioning, alignment, mobility, and seating assistance and assessments; staff untrained in safe physical support and transfer techniques; occupational and physical therapy inadequacies); and (4) provide services to WDC residents in the most integrated setting appropriate to the residents' individual needs, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq.; 28 C.F.R § 35.130(d). As to this latter category, DOJ observed an inappropriately low number of transitions resulting from a deficient WDC discharge planning process, inadequate to identify appropriate individuals for community placement. Further, DOJ noted that the process failed to provide sufficient information to residents' family members to enable informed decision-making. Available state resources allowed for more community placements than WDC made, as well. For all four categories, the DOJ letter provided details of the identified deficiencies.
Minimally-acceptable remedial measures for each of the four categories were outlined in the letter, which concluded by inviting continued further collaboration in implementing the remediation. The letter also provided notice that, absent a resolution of federal concerns, the DOJ would file a CRIPA lawsuit to compel correction of the identified deficiencies at WDC.
On November 9, 2005, in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, DOJ simultaneously filed a CRIPA complaint against New Jersey and its officials responsible for operation of the WDC and tendered a settlement agreement between the parties, the latter setting out numerous remedial measures to be taken by the state in response to the deficiencies existing at WDC. The lawsuit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, set out that the state had violated WDC violated residents' Fourteenth Amendment due process rights and their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C §§ 12101 et seq., and the ADA's implementing regulations, 28 C.F.R. Part 35.
The settlement obligated the state to ensure, and to periodically report upon its progress in ensuring, improvements that would bring the facilities up to generally accepted professional standards of care. The agreement provided that Elin Howe would be appointed as Compliance Monitor, able to use independent consultants funded by the state. The monitor position would also be state-funded, with total monitor-and-consultant costs capped at $200,000 per year, except added funds would be available for abuse, neglect, or death-related monitoring/reporting). She was required to periodically report upon the state's compliance with obligations imposed by the agreement. After four years, the agreement would automatically terminate, unless extended through agreement of the parties or terminated earlier due to substantial compliance being achieved. The settlement also allowed for the United States, if it had cause to believe conditions threatened the immediate health and safety of WDC residents (and at any time in the final six months of the agreement) to conduct compliance reviews, with facility inspections and interviews of staff and residents, and to fully access and review relevant documents.
District Judge Garrett E. Brown, Jr., approved the settlement on November 22, 2005, and issued an unpublished order which granted the parties' request to conditionally dismiss the case. The settlement was set to expire in 2011, and there has been no further activity since that time. Elizabeth Daligga - 07/25/2012