CAMDEN, N.J. – The state is investigating the death of a 28-year-old woman who had dwindled to 43 pounds in a state-licensed home for developmentally disabled adults, officials said Tuesday.
The Division of Developmental Disabilities caseworker responsible for keeping tabs on the woman has been suspended and state workers are checking on the well-being of all 1,255 residents of similar homes, the officials said.
Tara O'Leary was removed on Sept. 11 from a central New Jersey home where she lived along with two other developmentally disabled adults, said Tom Fitzsimmons, an aide to state Sen. Jennifer Beck.
The next day, the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office started a criminal investigation and the Department of Human Services opened its own investigation, said department spokeswoman Pam Ronan.
State officials said the woman died Nov. 10. They would not say where she died.
Ronan said the woman had a complicated medical history, but that the state could not release specifics because of state and federal patient privacy laws and because of the investigation.
She said the state is looking into whether the caseworker was making monthly visits to the home.
"This death is unacceptable on many levels, and we're doing all we can to scrutinize every aspect and prevent tragedies such as this from occurring again," said Jennifer Velez, the state Human Services commissioner.
The case is similar to one in 2003, when four children weighing less than 45 pounds each were removed from a state-run foster home in Collingswood. The boys all survived, but the case brought deep disgrace to the state Division of Human Services and its Division of Children and Family Services.
The state has about 600 licensed community care residences, which operate much like foster homes and serve developmentally disabled adults.