Weekly Radio Address: Chipman says DHHS must be held accountable for failure to protect disabled Mainers

Posted: September 22, 2017 | Senator Chipman, Weekly Radio Address

A federal investigation has found that the Department of Health and Human Services failed to protect disabled Mainers in its care. In the face of these damning revelations, Mainers deserve answers.

Hi, I’m Senator Ben Chipman from Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. Thanks for tuning in.

More than 2,600 Mainers with development disabilities receive care from community-based providers, which are overseen by DHHS. The department has a responsibility to the life, health and well-being of each patient in its care. That includes a responsibility to investigate critical incidents such as abuse, attempted suicide and death.

But an audit by the federal Office of the Inspector General revealed that the Department had neglected this core oversight function. Investigators revealed that DHHS failed to investigate 133 deaths, including a patient who drowned in a bathtub while unattended. In several incidents of untimely, unexplained or suspicious death, the department failed to refer the cases to a district attorney for investigation. Beyond those tragedies, the department also failed to report roughly one-third of critical incidents involving developmentally disabled patients during a two-and-a-half year period.

This report reveals an unconscionable neglect of the department’s highest duty — to protect the lives of vulnerable Mainers in its care.

Patients in question include Mainers with severe autism or other disabilities that leave them dependent on the care of others. Those patients and their families deserved better than they got.

The Department must answer questions about this egregious lack of oversight and management. Not surprisingly, the Department has been less than forthcoming. It has refused to provide straight answers to the public or the Legislature. Questions posed by my committee have been met with vague responses and political talking points. It has yet to accept responsibility for its failures, or to explain in clear terms how those failures will be avoided in the future.

For more than six years under Commissioner Mary Mayhew and Gov. Paul LePage, the department shied away from transparency. It was a rogue agency, which deflected or ignored outside questions or concerns. It pursued a nearly single-minded agenda of service cuts, while ignoring the real-life harm caused to vulnerable Mainers. I am disappointed that even after Mayhew’s departure, the culture of DHHS remains unchanged.

The people of Maine deserve answers. We in the Legislature will continue to hold the department accountable — not only for the Mainers entrusted in its care, but for the public trust at large.

This is Senator Ben Chipman. Thanks for listening.