Time to act at Oakwood


The latest citation against the Communities at Oakwood the 17th citation for endangering residents safety in 16 months is an example of the nearly impossible responsibility state government has in caring for profoundly mentally handicapped adults.

An Oakwood resident with a history of ingesting foreign objects swallowed two latex gloves that required surgery to remove from his stomach.

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Mark D. Birdwhistell ordered an investigation of the life-threatening incident. He directed John Burt, commissioner of mental health and mental retardation, to report on other incidents that led to citations against Oakwood as well as a plan for preventing future citations.

The sprawling Somerset facility is the states largest for mentally handicapped adults, and the state currently is spending about $1 million a month on private administration of Oakwood.

A handicapped person who, left unattended, will swallow two latex gloves clearly requires the level of constant attention and care that cannot be provided in a residential facility of several hundred perhaps similar residents.

Clearly, Oakwood cannot continue at its current size and provide the level of individual care that many of its residents require virtually around the clock.

The relocation of some Oakwood residents into community-based group homes near their families is one way to reduce Oakwoods population. So, too, is development of regional residential facilities with only a limited number of residents that a small staff can supervise adequately and safely for those residents.

As it is now, Oakwood cannot continue as the large institution it has become at the same time providing the level of care its residents require and their families expect. The latest incident proves that, but all the incidents over the last year and more mean that the time for studies is over and the time for action is now before someone else dies at Oakwood.

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