By JOSHUA WOLFSON and CHRISTINE PETERSON
Old and poorly maintained buildings at a state facility for the developmentally disabled pose a significant risk to residents, according to investigators with a disability advocacy group.
Unsafe conditions are exacerbated by the Wyoming Life Resource Center’s failure to secure dangerous areas or lock away potentially harmful chemicals, the group found. Staff at the Lander facility also failed to take adequate steps to address suicide risks at the center, leaving residents unsupervised or with easy access to items they could use to harm themselves.
The allegations were included in a public report published by Wyoming Protection & Advocacy System Inc., a nonprofit that investigates abuse and neglect of people with disabilities. The document urges state officials to change an “observed culture of indifference” at the center, and perform an inspection led by the Wyoming fire marshal.
“We don’t want to frighten anybody,” said Jeanne Thobro, Protection & Advocacy System’s chief executive. “We don’t want a panic or an over-reaction. But at the same time, there is a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of people there.”
The report – the first in a series – comes amid increased scrutiny of the center and its role in caring for one of the Wyoming’s most vulnerable populations. State health officials are expecting to deliver a report to lawmakers next month that examines whether some residents could receive less expensive care in their own communities.
Wyoming spends an average of $306,000 annually on each of the nearly 90 people who live at the center. Most have severe developmental disabilities. Some have intensive needs that prevent them from living with their families or at local facilities.
State health officials insist the center is safe for residents. Still, the state and an outside expert are each reviewing how the facility addresses incidents, and whether gaps exist within the system, said Chris Newman, a senior administrator with the Department of Health.
Officials are also examining Protection & Advocacy’s findings.
“While we have processes in place to initially react to all of those incidents … when we get a report like that, we absolutely sit down and review it,” Newman said. “Are they identifying something we didn’t see?”