CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — A South Texas state-run living center where residents with mental disabilities were once forced to fight is safer as it acts swiftly to protect residents, including by responding quickly to abuse accusations and completing investigations within 10 days, according to a federal report.
The Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center is being overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice as part of a settlement agreement with the federal government over statewide mistreatment of the disabled.
An investigation of the center in 2009 uncovered late-night "fight clubs" where workers forced some of the mentally challenged residents to fight each other. A series of videos authorities discovered showed night staff instigating the fights at one of the facility's dorms, even kicking residents and telling them what to do.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported (http://bit.ly/Yh2cF4) Sunday the Justice Department wrote in its latest report that the facility has made progress documenting and tracking abuse allegations.
Inspectors reviewed 25 investigations and the center had removed 23 people from direct contact with residents, including reassigning some to temporary work. At least two people were fired when abuse was confirmed.
According to the report, abuse accusations seem to be dropping. In 2011, the center logged 836 such accusations and 98 were substantiated. In the first half of 2012, the center logged 210 accusations and substantiated nine.
The 544-page report also noted that more work needs to be done to track the data to prevent recurrence.
The report is the fifth of several planned every six months for the Corpus Christi center and others in Texas over the coming years.
"We just have zero tolerance for any abuse or neglect," said Cecilia Cavuto, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services. "As soon as we get an allegation, any employees that are named are taken out of contact with those residents."
Center director Mark Cazalas said the facility is a better place to live, not only because it's safer, but also because residents have better opportunities and more individualized care, from specialized dining plans to explicit instructions on how residents should be positioned and moved. Some residents are even getting jobs outside of the state school.
Some critics of the center continue to question whether it's doing enough or whether it's providing the best environment for adults with disabilities.
Attorney Bob Hilliard, who represented former residents in a lawsuit against the state regarding the staged fights, said the facility is safer than it was, but that such large group homes are fundamentally dangerous.
"When you improve a medieval culture, you're still in the latter stages of medievalism," Hilliard said. "I do not believe the design is capable of sustaining a safe environment over time."
Hilliard said the state needs to break apart the large living centers into smaller group homes better suited to serving individual needs.
Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, http://www.caller.com