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Official: Report deserved response

Booneville site said to be unsafe by Jeannie Roberts | January 31, 2015 at 2:40 a.m.

Correction: Rep. Richard Womack, R-Arkadelphia, attended a strategy meeting Jan. 9 at the state Capitol with several parent representatives to discuss a report concerning the Booneville Human Development Center. It was incorrectly stated in this article that U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., had attended.

A state board should have responded sooner to allegations that a Booneville facility for the disabled is unsafe and should be closed, a board member said Friday.

Developmental Disabilities Services Board member Darrell Pickney said at a meeting of the Ad Hoc Subcommittee of Developmental Disabilities Services -- which includes board members and caregivers of disabled clients -- that the board should have immediately convened a special meeting after a report was released Jan. 5 by the advocacy group Disability Rights Arkansas.

"I'm disappointed the chairman did not immediately call a meeting to draft a response," Pickney said.

The seven-member board oversees the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services under the state's Department of Human Services.

The 20-page report from Disability Rights Arkansas argued that the Booneville Human Development Center is in dangerous disrepair and has an inordinate number of patient-restraint incidents -- either by mechanical or chemical means -- compared with the other human development centers operated by the state Department of Human Services.

The Board of Developmental Disabilities Services will meet at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Conway Human Development Center. The report about the Booneville Human Development Center is not currently on the agenda for discussion.

When asked if a response would be drafted by the board at the forthcoming meeting or if the Booneville facility would be discussed at all, board Chairman David Rosegrant would not comment except to say, "Come to the meeting and find out."

"I'm not going to make a statement about anything before the board meeting on Feb. 4," Rosegrant said when asked if there was a possibility the Booneville center would be closed.

Jan Fortney, a parent representative on the subcommittee, said she wished "there was a more rapid response" to "something that serious."

Board member Suzann McCommon, who is also a member of the subcommittee, scolded Fortney for "jumping on" her. She added, however, that while she could not speak for the full board, she would respond to the report.

The Department of Human Services, which operates the Booneville facility, issued an immediate response Jan. 5 after the allegations were made.

Department spokesman Amy Webb said in the response that officials are "acutely aware of the condition of the buildings on campus and have similar concerns about the physical plant itself. Improvements are needed, but they would take a great deal of money that we do not currently have. So, instead, we are doing everything we can to ensure the residents are safe and comfortable."

A master plan from 2011 estimated that it would take $20 million to remove, repair or replace all the buildings at the Booneville facility, Webb said.

On Friday, interim Developmental Disabilities Services Division Director Jim Brader said it was a matter of finding funding for the facility.

Brader said he attended a funding strategy meeting Jan. 9 at the state Capitol with several parent representatives, as well as state Sen. Jason Rapert, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, state Rep. Jon Eubanks, senior adviser Betty Guhman of the governor's office, Division of Behavioral Health Services interim Director Charlie Green and Pickney.

"We appreciate the support they're offering," Brader said.

If the Booneville center is closed as Disability Rights Arkansas is recommending, it would displace about 129 developmentally disabled clients who live there and would leave about 311 staff members out of work.

Families and Friends of Care Facility Residents, an Arkansas nonprofit parent-guardian group that advocates for clients in the state's human development centers, issued a statement Jan. 14 in support of keeping the Booneville facility open.

"Booneville residents are our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and friends. No center can eliminate every problem: but all HDCs work to minimize these," the statement read. "The Booneville HDC may not be perfect, but it is the best in the state for many vulnerable persons with life-long disabilities, especially those who also have dual diagnoses of cognitive deficits and behavioral issues."

State Desk on 01/31/2015

Print Headline: Official: Report deserved response


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