Amy Webb, the spokesperson for the state Department of Human Services, has issued this response to a fatal choking death at the Booneville Human Development Center that the Disability Rights Arkansas advocacy group blamed on the center’s “primitive” treatments of its disabled residents. As in child welfare cases, once again privacy laws mean that we can’t know exactly what goes on in agencies run by DHS.
Every day, Booneville HDC employees work around-the-clock to ensure the safety and well-being of residents at that facility. We at DHS take the death of any resident seriously and a thorough review is conducted to identify any facility or staffing issues that may have contributed to the death.
Federal privacy laws prohibit DHS from releasing any medical information on a resident at a human development center, even once that resident has passed away. Unfortunately, that means DHS is barred by law from providing the details of care provided to the resident featured in the report issued by the Disability Rights of Arkansas today. DHS cannot legally provide information about how it responded to the incident nor can it point out any inaccuracies in the report.
However, no death goes without scrutiny. There are three reviews conducted of any death at a human development center. The first is by the Office of Long-term Care (OLTC), which is designated by the federal government to investigate deaths at all residential facilities. The second review is conducted by the HDC mortality review committee, which is comprised of a physician, a nurse, an HDC family member, DHS Division of Developmental Disabilities staff and others. That committee reviews the resident’s medical records, the incident report, nurses notes one month prior to the incident, physician orders and progress notes and other relevant records. The human development center also conducts an internal review to determine whether situations were handled as outlined in policy.
In a case similar to the one described in the report, Booneville HDC staff would closely monitor residents with potential choking issues. If a resident collapsed, staff would make sure the airway was open, no obstructions were present, the resident was breathing and would call a nurse. If a resident stops breathing, CPR would be administered immediately and continuously until such time that emergency medical personnel arrive. Staff also could use a portable suction device to attempt to clear the resident’s airway, if choking was suspected.
In DRA’s own report, it confirms that staff did check the resident’s mouth to ensure there was nothing in it (page 27), that the nurse confirmed the resident was breathing when she arrived (page 28), that chest compressions began when resident quit breathing (page 29) and that a second nurse also provided care (page 30). The report also states that an HDC employee used a portable suction device to attempt to clear the resident’s airway (page 30).
DRA has expressed a desire for the Booneville facility to be closed and has not responded to a week-old request by the new Division director to meet and discuss the facility.
The DRA report referred to the woman as “Jane”; the Democrat-Gazette today reported that she was identified by the Logan County Sheriff’s Office as Shateria Diggs.