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Report on Booneville site ripped

Disabilities services board responds to advocacy group by Jeannie Roberts | February 5, 2015 at 3:37 a.m.

CONWAY -- A report calling for the closure of a Booneville facility for the disabled was full of "bias and inaccuracies" designed to "intentionally mislead the public," a state board response said at a Wednesday meeting.

The Developmental Disabilities Services Board voted unanimously at the Conway Human Development Center to approve a response written by board member Suzann McCommon to a Jan. 5 report by the advocacy group Disability Rights Arkansas that said the Booneville Human Development Center is unsafe and should be closed.

"The Board wants to emphasize that they have confidence in the staff at the Booneville HDC and know that the residents are safe and well cared for," McCommon read from the statement. "As a Board we strongly object to the misleading report and want to make the public aware that the DRA has an obvious and conflicting agenda to the Board's mission. The Board fully supports the Human Development Centers of Arkansas, including Booneville."

The official board response came after Developmental Disabilities Services Board member Darrell Pickney said during a subcommittee meeting that the board should have immediately called a special meeting after the report was released.

The 20-page report from the Disabilities Rights Arkansas said the Booneville facility -- which was originally opened in 1910 as a relocation center for tuberculosis patients -- was in dangerous disrepair and has an inordinate number of patient-restraint cases.

McCommon's response said mischaracterization are found throughout the report and are "blatantly apparent in the choice of pictures."

One of the pictures depicts a room full of trash bags, but Human Services Department spokesman Amy Webb said in a response issued Jan. 5 that the "trash" is actually bags filled with loops of fabric that residents use to make rugs, which they sell to the public.

Disability Rights Arkansas spokesman Justin Nickels said Wednesday that the monitor "thought it was trash when they took the photos."

Nickels said there is no acceptable option except to close the facility.

Repairing the current physical facility would cost more than $20 million, according to a 2011 master plan developed by a work group in conjunction with an engineering firm.

"It would make more fiscal sense to close it," Nickels said.

Such an action would displace about 129 developmentally disabled clients who live at the Booneville Human Development Center and would leave about 311 staff members out of work.

Webb said Wednesday that the Arkansas Building Authority is working on an assessment of the physical plants of all the department's Human Development Centers. Those findings are expected 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," Webb said. "The task force is expected to issue a report and recommendations this summer. We will use those findings to help determine our next steps."

Carole Sherman, whose 46-year-old son, John, is a resident of the Arkadelphia Human Development Center, told the board Wednesday that the Human Services Department policies are not working for the centers and do not translate into "needed support from the administration and from the General Assembly.

"HDC physical plants are heavily used campuses. Replacement and repairs of HDC buildings and upgrade of their infrastructures in thoughtful, regular, steady increments must be included in the HDC budgets," Sherman said.

"Our division director needs to be free to go to bat for this support," Sherman said. "He should be given the support he needs to work with the governor, with the Legislature and with community leaders to understand the vulnerable people in our centers and the conditions of the centers."

State Desk on 02/05/2015

Print Headline: Report on Booneville site ripped


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