Measure to improve how abuse investigations of developmentally disabled are handled advances

TRENTON – A resolution that would shift a unit responsible for investigating abuse allegations from the Department of Human Services to the Attorney General cleared the Assembly Human Services Committee today.

ACR147, sponsored by Valerie Vainieri Huttle, (D-37), Englewood, urges Gov. Chris Christie to transfer the Special Response Unit from the Department of Human Services to the Office of the Attorney General in order for the state to provide more diligent oversight of the community programs and facilities regulated by DHS, and guarantee that persons with developmental disabilities receiving services from DHS are protected from abuse, neglect, or exploitation and are provided services that maximize their developmental potential.

Before the measure was passed, representatives from Human Services testified about caseload and procedures and said the Special Response Unit is critical to the Department’s ability to hold perpetrators of abuse accountable.

Huttle, who also is chair of the committee, said that on paper it sounds as if the Department is doing a terrific job, but there are examples that would indicate otherwise.

Parents told heart-rending stories.

Thomas Komminos of Upper Saddle River said his son Stephen, 22, died in 2007 while under the care of an agency in Southern New Jersey he said was ruled negligent after a Department investigation.

“This is a horror story,’’ he said, adding that his son was victimized by abuse or neglect 14 times in five years. He told the committee that officials at the facility tried to pressure the Department to change its findings, among other things.

Other parents told the committee that facilities often try to pressure them not to contact the Division of Developmental Disabilities.

Komminos stressed he was not being critical of the Department per se, because the issue that led to his son’s death is bigger than the Department’s Special Response Unit.

He said SRU only gets involved after an incident occurs; there needs to a more active and progressive approach overall.

And Aileen Rivera of Wayne told the panel of the abuse and neglect she said that her son, Daniel, suffered at North Jersey Developmental Center in June 2010.

She said he remained at the Totowa center a year before she was able to get him out of there.  “That’s how slow they move,’’ she said, adding that an investigation concluded allegations of abuse were unsubstantiated and that he fell, although she showed the committee pictures of her son’s injuries and said that her son’s broken teeth, black eyes and concussion were the result of a beating.

Other parents and advocates said SRU is not staffed well enough to handle the number of cases that are occurring.

“I’m at a loss for words listening to the testimony,’’ Huttle said. She and other committee members expressed frustration with conflicts of interest inherent in the process because the providers are the ones reporting “incidents’’ to the state.

The measure passed 6-1 with Jon Bramnick, (R-21), Wesfield, voting no.

Measure to improve how abuse investigations of developmentally disabled are handled advances