More families allege abuse at state mental health facilityby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Two more families have joined a lawsuit alleging that staff at a state mental health treatment facility routinely used metal handcuffs and shackles to restrain developmentally disabled residents without cause.
The suit, filed in U.S. Federal District Court, also contends that the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options facility in Cambridge, Minn., secluded residents for extended periods and deprived them of family visits.
The facility is run by the state Department of Human Services.
Parents of Jason Jacobs, one of the three facility residents involved in the suit, allege that staff restrained Jacobs hundreds of times with metal handcuffs and shackles. The suit also alleges that Jacobs' arm was broken while in metal handcuffs and staff refused to provide immediate medical treatment.
"METO should be shut down and its staff punished for what they did to Jason and other young people there," said Beth Jacobs, Jason's mother. "They broke my son's arm and abused him for three years, using handcuffs, leg irons and anything else they could think of, lying to us the whole time about what they were doing."
The lawsuit seeks class action certification and damages for alleged violations of the federal civil and constitutional rights of people with developmental disabilities. The suit also seeks an injunction against METO to prohibit its restraint and seclusion practices.
"With today's filing, more families now join this action against the unbelievable abuse of people with developmental disabilities and their families at a state operated facility," said Shamus O'Meara, a lawyer representing the families. "We categorically reject and renounce the abusive, cruel, and discriminatory conduct against these vulnerable citizens."
In 2008, the state Ombudsman for Mental Health and Development Disabilities released a 202-page review of the facility, which found that staff engaged in excessive use of restraints and law enforcement-style devices on residents. The report, called "Just Plain Wrong," found that 63 percent of the residents who were in METO at the time of the review had been restrained.
In one case, a resident had been restrained 299 times in 2006 and 230 times in 2007. The report also found that one resident was placed in restraints after touching a pizza box, apparently against staff's instruction.
A spokesperson at the ombudsman's office declined to state whether the cases of the residents involved in the lawsuit were reviewed during the investigation, citing privacy practices.
The ombudsman's report states that the Department of Human Services issued a corrective action letter in 2008 for at least six citations, including "failure to ensure that all the required standards and conditions for the use of controlled procedures were met."
Patrice Vick, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, declined to comment on the lawsuit or the ombudsman's report. Vick also declined to comment on whether the Department of Human Services followed up with the facility to ensure that changes had been implemented, citing pending litigation.
The facility was formally opened in 1999 on the grounds of the Cambridge State Hospital which closed the same year.
The purpose of the program was to treat developmentally disabled people who may have engaged in criminal conduct or other behavior that poses serious concerns for public or resident safety.