I have worked in the system that provides services to persons with I/DD for more than half of my life. Working in human services allows me to better understand the full breadth of human experiences - and all that comes with both the celebrations and disappointments. I am fortunate to have experienced far more celebrations than tragedies, but somehow the sadness and memory of tragedy has made a greater impact, especially when harm or death is the result.
Earlier this year, I received a telephone call informing me of a fire in a host home. The fire took the life of an individual with a developmental disability. There were few known details at that time, but I learned enough to feel shock and sadness for the situation and all involved. The impact of the tragedy was immediately clear to me: A life gone too soon and a host home provider and family whose world was abruptly changed forever.
Through our relationships with persons with I/DD, those of us who choose careers in this field understand the fragile nature of our work. We focus on the health and safety of those whom we serve every day. My experiences as a direct service provider, an investigator, a program auditor, a rule writer, and now an agency administrator have taught me the importance of prevention and that safety is a shared responsibility. Direct service providers have a responsibility to follow a set of rules and guidelines to be sure that each person’s unique health and safety needs are met; Case Managers work to be sure that Service Plans and Safety Plans are comprehensive and services adequately address health and safety concerns; and agency administrators and state departments are charged with providing adequate monitoring and detection systems.
While this description of roles related to safety may seem comprehensive, incidents such as the recent fire call to question whether or not we, as a system, are doing everything we can to provide safe environments for those who receive our services. It is a natural response to ask, “What can we do differently or better?” We are likely to want to dive into the details and to understand everything we can as a step towards finding a solution to prevent such a terrible tragedy from ever occurring again.
In looking for that solution, however, we, as a community of providers, advocates, agencies and families are sometimes caught in a tangle of complex questions that challenge the quest for a simple, or blanket, solution. How do we best protect vulnerable individuals? How does individual responsibility play a role in decisions about safety? What is the right amount of regulation to assure appropriate safeguards while protecting individual choice and independence? Are the regulations that residential settings operate within sufficient? And does the current role that the state assigns to the CCB and case manager need to change? These are important questions that we need to answer in order to evaluate proposed changes and focus on prevention.
The recent house fire took the life of an individual cherished by many, and has had a strong impact on our community. I believe it is important to acknowledge this event and the variety of emotions it causes each of us to feel. We will work proactively with the agencies and individuals involved within the disability community to act on what we can, but it is also important to allow the investigation process to continue and resist judgment without full information. The safety of individuals with a developmental disability is, and will continue to be, an important priority at RMHS - and one that I pledge to support as we, together, look for improvements to ensure the safety of all.