El Paso State Supported Living Center
El Paso State Supported Living Center on Delta Drive houses special-needs residents and provides behavioral-treatment and health-care services. (Victor Calzada / El Paso Times)

The El Paso State Supported Living Center failed to comply in nearly 80 percent of the areas reviewed by a team this summer, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Justice monitoring report for the facility.

The center in El Paso that houses special needs residents complied with 38 out of 171 areas, or 21 percent, which was down slightly from its 23 percent compliance from the previous report.

Disability Rights Texas, the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency for Texans with disabilities, said that based on DOJ monitoring reports for El Paso and four other Texas cities, "people with intellectual and developmental disabilities living in these facilities remain at high risk for abuse and neglect due to the facilities' continued noncompliance on basic health and safety provisions."


Washington Valdez

A monitoring team led by Alan Harchik visited the El Paso center on Delta Drive in July, and was greeted by protesters who demanded the resignations of the then-director and mid-level managers.

"These latest monitoring reports underline the fact that the (state centers) are continuing to fail to meet the most basic health and safety needs of residents and that facilities are regressing rather than progressing in their ability to provide care and treatment," said Beth Mitchell, supervising attorney for Disability Rights Texas.

"And now, as the deadline for 100 percent compliance has passed, all facilities are still significantly behind where they should be in improving the protections, supports, and services they provide to individuals under their care," Mitchell said.


A new director, Laura Cazabon-Braly, former superintendent of the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center, took over the El Paso state center Dec. 1.

Cecilia Cavuto, spokeswoman for the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS), which oversees the state centers, issued a statement responding to the report's findings.

"Ms. Cazabon-Braly will be communicating and working closely with parents and families to hear their concerns, their hopes for the future of the facility," Cavuto said. "She will also be communicating and working closely with all staff in order to hear their concerns and hopes for the facility.

"She will, as she did in her previous job, take a very hands-on and personal approach to staff appreciation. And she, along with the facility's community relations staff, will work to expand volunteer opportunities and participation at the facility and to expand community involvement," Cavuto said.

The new director and the rest of the staff will continue their work toward compliance with a settlement agreement, Cavuto added.

DADS officials also said that the settlement agreement between the state and the DOJ does not specify consequences for not meeting time frames within the agreement.

"It is important to note that the dates in the agreement are not specific deadlines for achieving substantial compliance, but rather milestone dates intended to be guidelines for the state and the DOJ to measure improvement efforts," DADS officials said in a statement.

Some of the concerns voiced previously by the No Voice, No Justice Coalition in El Paso were reflected in the DOJ's monitoring report, including significant weight loss by residents, investigations of residents' deaths, and allegations of abuse and neglect.

Relatives of several residents had complained about the rapid weight loss. The residents also displayed great hunger during home visits.

"The monitoring team found many issues regarding the way individuals' weights, diet, and nutrition were managed," the report said. "Many individuals appeared underweight and many had not had nutritional orders implemented correctly or timely."

The report also provided some information on allegations of abuse and neglect reported to the state. For example, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services "conducted 43 investigations at the (El Paso) facility between (Dec. 1, 2011, and May 31, 2012), involving 20 allegations of physical abuse, nine allegations of verbal/emotional abuse, one allegation of exploitation, and 42 allegations of neglect.

"Of the 72 allegations, there were five confirmed cases of physical abuse, and 21 confirmed cases of neglect. An additional 16 other serious incidents were investigated by the facility, including three deaths. (And there) were a total of 534 injuries reported between (Jan. 1 and May 30). These 534 injuries included 10 serious injuries resulting in fractures or sutures.

"It was not evident that the facility was adequately addressing the high number of injuries documented at the facility with preventative actions," the report said.

The monitoring attributed the high number of allegations of abuse and neglect in part to the lack of proper training of staff to recognize and respond to risks at the center.

Earlier this year, dozens of people, including former and current staffers and relatives of residents, contacted the El Paso Times to complain about conditions at the center, which houses more than 120 special-needs residents.

State legislators, including state Sen. José Rodríguez and state Rep. Dee Margo, met with the relatives to learn about their complaints, which included a failure on the part of administrators to communicate timely information with relatives of residents about injuries and changes in medical and psychological treatment programs.

The 145-bed center is responsible for assisting people with special needs around the clock. It provides residential services, including comprehensive behavioral-treatment and health-care services such as physician, nursing and dental care.

The state is the legal guardian for several of the current 126 residents.

Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at dvaldez@elpasotimes.com; 546-6140.