Sunday, July 25, 2004

Center woes: What to do? Oh, nothing

Peter Bronson

The nurses said "there are no words to describe" the problems at a home for the mentally retarded in Batavia. Last year, eight nurses quit and four took leave, alleging bad management, thin staffing and sinking morale.

They warned that someone would get hurt. They were right.

Now the Southwest Ohio Developmental Center a state-run home for the retarded, is in jeopardy of losing its Medicaid certification. The Ohio Department of Health says it's unsafe. And the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities found "neglect and failure to report."

Clients at the Batavia center have been sexually assaulted nine times in the past year, reports show. In all but the latest, on July 3, they were not reported to police and state officials as required by law. Three sexual assaults were by a moderately retarded man whose victims were profoundly retarded.

Jeff Davis, a deputy director for the Ohio MRDD, said it's unfair to speculate if some assaults could have been avoided. "It was a matter of classification, not of appropriate action," he said.

Batavia Superintendent Nancy McAvoy's secretary referred all questions to Columbus. Two top officials at the center declined to comment. State officials supported McAvoy.

McAvoy was "administrator on duty" Feb. 1 when a sexual assault was discovered in a shower room. "This incident was never designated as an MUI (major unusual incident), not reported to law enforcement and a physician did no sexual assault assessment," the MRDD report said.

Instead, it was classified as an "unusual incident," a category used for less serious incidents. Batavia Center's rate of serious MUIs is 35.71 percent, compared to a state average of 30.45 percent.

McAvoy told investigators the Feb. 1 incident did not look serious. The nurse who discovered it reported sodomy, and another nurse found scratches and bruises on the victim.

McAvoy told investigators her training did not emphasize that any sexual contact had to be reported to police and MRDD officials. Sexual contact is clearly defined that way in state law. Last year, six RNs and two LPNs who quit said McAvoy's management had created 10 vacant nursing jobs and unsafe conditions. McAvoy was reprimanded and ordered to get "team building" training. But nursing turnover is still a problem. A nursing roster for June 27 shows seven staffers, two supervisors and 11 vacant slots for three shifts. That's nine people to cover 21 positions.

Deb Buccilla, MRDD assistant deputy director and McAvoy's supervisor, said, "I have not received any complaints from staff about any morale issues. We always have higher nursing vacancy in urban areas, where there's more competition."

On June 10, the Ohio Department of Health said the Batavia Center does not meet standards for "client protections," and "deficiencies ... jeopardize the residents' health and safety and seriously limit the facility's capacity to provide adequate care.''

The report urged termination of Medicaid funding, which pays for all but a few of the Batavia Center's 109 residents.

"We have a thorough plan of correction in place and we believe we will be found in compliance'' on a return inspection, said Mike Snow, an Ohio MRDD deputy director.

The state is doing nothing "at this point in time" to discipline or remove McAvoy, Snow said.

The nurses predicted last year that the state wouldn't do anything about neglect at the Batavia Center. Looks like they were right again.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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