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State Official Admits Oakwood "Cannot Be Fixed"
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
July 31, 2006

SOMERSET, KENTUCKY--The head of the agency that oversees Communities of Oakwood has admitted that problems at the institution might be too difficult to solve.

"I really thought I could fix Oakwood," Mark D. Birdwhistell, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told the Courier-Journal. "I'm coming to conclude that it really cannot be fixed."

Birdwhistell's statement came after the state was hit with a $1.4 million fine from its inspector general for repeated citations of staff abuse and neglect of residents with developmental disabilities. In the past 19 months, the institution, which houses 255 people, has received 20 of the most severe citations the inspector general can give. The fine came after the inspector general determined that the state still had not corrected 12 of those "Type A" citations.

Birdwhistell and others have been worried about the fate of the facility since last fall, when the federal government threatened to withhold $40 million in annual Medicaid funds because of abuse and neglect. The state is appealing that decision, while trying to correct the deficiencies.

But things seem to be getting worse because of circumstances that may be beyond the control of Birdwhistell or any other officials. For one thing, publicity surrounding the arrests of 15 staff members on abuse charges has brought down the morale of current workers. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported last week that nearly half of those workers who have been arrested were previously reprimanded for misconduct. Some who were fired were later given back their jobs.

At the same time, 83 direct care staff that have been accused of abuse and neglect have been assigned to work in the laundry while those allegations are investigated. This has left direct care staff overextended, working overtime and double shifts in dormitories where they do not know their coworkers or residents.

Because of Oakwood's rural nature, the state has nearly depleted the pool of local potential employees. The town of Somerset has a population of just 12,000, which is rather small for a facility that employs about 1,300 workers.

Birdwhistell said that while he does not plan to close Oakwood, he wants to move as many residents as possible to community settings.

"The one thing that's working is community transition," he said.

"Cabinet fining itself over Oakwood" (Lexington Herald-Leader)
"Some charged at Oakwood had history of misconduct" (Lexington Herald-Leader)
"Oakwood employees say recent arrests, citations have hurt morale" (Lexington Herald-Leader)
"Oakwood's problems daunting; Official: 'It really cannot be fixed'" (Louisville Courier-Journal)
"Communities at Oakwood" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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