LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday that a Justice Department attempt to block admissions of young people to a state center for the developmentally disabled is part of a long-running disagreement over how those patients should be tended.
Government lawyers on Tuesday filed federal court papers seeking an injunction to halt admissions of school-age children to the Conway Human Development Center.
The Justice Department filing claims "irreparable harm is being inflicted upon residents," some of which are subject to "dangerous medication mismanagement." The filing also says some patients have been unnecessarily restrained.
The center "continues to utilize 41 different forms of mechanical restraints on both children and adults," the Justice Department said. The limiting devices include straitjackets and restraint chairs, practices the department says have been largely eliminated from other facilities.
The request for an injunction is part of a lawsuit the Justice Department filed against the state Human Services Department last year under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.
The center serves more than 500 developmentally disabled children and adults with conditions including epilepsy, mental illnesses, autism, cerebral palsy and spina bifida.
Beebe said the Justice Department favors systems that provide care for the developmentally disabled by placing them in home or community settings. The governor said that's contrary to the wishes of the Conway patients' relatives, who often say they cannot manage loved ones who require institutional care.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Justin Allen said the Justice Department criticism is off-base and that the office will defend the center in court.
"The attorney general and I personally toured the facility," Allen said. "We know what goes on out there."
"We fundamentally disagree and deny, and will deny in litigation, that care is substandard," he said.
Allen questioned the filing's timing. He noted that the Justice Department has been investigating the center since 2003.
"Why didn't they do this in the past seven years?" Allen said.
The case was to have been tried in April, but the Justice Department asked for more time. Trial is now set for Sept. 8.
Julie Munsell, a Department of Human Services spokeswoman, said the state and the Justice Department had an agreement to allow her department's consultants to review the center. She said Tuesday's filing "unfairly seeks to deny" the agency a chance to complete its reports, due April 25.
"Our experts ... have already communicated to us that they are finding many misrepresentations and very flawed conclusions by the (Justice Department's) consultants," she said.
Munsell said the center is in "substantial compliance" with the agencies regulating the center.
Beebe said Wednesday that any improper restraint or medication mismanagement would be addressed by the state without the need for federal involvement.
The court filing says once a school-age child is accepted into the center, his or her "chances of ever living in the community again immediately — and irreparably — decrease."
Beebe countered that life expectancy figures would have to depend on the health conditions of individual patients.
He added that restraints are used not only to protect the patient, but also to protect other patients and staff. He said he'd "fire somebody" if he found out about use of improper restraints or inappropriate medication.
Beebe, when he was attorney general, defended the center after the Justice Department issued a report criticizing the center.
Then, as now, Beebe countered by saying relatives of patients were satisfied with the care their loved ones received.