ALBANY, N.Y. – A mentally disabled teenager who died while under state care in 2013 writhed in excruciating pain for months when a doctor ignored his rejection of a stomach feeding tube, according to a watchdog group that faulted the state's oversight agency for not substantiating neglect in the case.
Disability Rights New York, which has the federal authority to oversee such care in the state, issued a highly critical report that was provided to The Associated Press before its release Monday, calling for a new investigation by the state's Justice Center, established two years ago to protect the 1 million disabled, addicted, mentally ill and young people in state care.
The report underscores what other advocates for the disabled said of the Justice Center when the AP reported in October that its investigations have rarely resulted in criminal charges. The agency has received more than 25,000 allegations of abuse and neglect by caretakers since 2014, substantiated about 7,000 of them, with just 169 cases — or less than 2.5 percent — resulting in criminal charges.
According to the Disability Rights report released Monday, the autistic, severely mentally disabled 18-year-old, identified as "M.H.," was being cared for at Dominican Hall in the Hudson Valley town of Goshen.
It said the teen had been fed through a stomach tube that he became unable to tolerate in late 2012, leading to "consistent and excruciating pain" almost daily for about eight months. The facility's doctor, identified in the report only as "Dr. P," continued the same "ineffective" treatment and didn't assess him for three months before his death from peritonitis and sepsis at a hospital after a new tube attached to his intestine was inadvertently removed.
The report said the Justice Center, which investigated the case, failed to substantiate neglect, didn't prevent the doctor from putting other vulnerable patients at risk and justified its inaction with a legalistic "smoke screen" by claiming it lacked jurisdiction for most of that time period despite having inherited the authority of its predecessor agency.
The Justice Center said the teen's case largely predated its purview, which began when it became operational on June 30, 2013. M.H. was hospitalized shortly before that, and he died four days later.
"We have no idea why the concepts of time and space did not figure into this organization's report," Justice Center spokeswoman Diane Ward said.
The state agency said in a statement that it did a thorough investigation and concluded M.H.'s medical care "appeared to be inadequate and inappropriate" by the group home's and two hospitals' doctors but that it didn't empower the Justice Center to substantiate abuse or neglect.
The operator of the group home, Catholic social services agency Saint Dominic's Hall, said in a formal response that it disagreed with the report's findings and called M.H.'s death "tragic" but referred back to the Justice Center investigation. Saint Dominic's Home President Judith Kydon did not return calls to The Associated Press seeking further comment.
Disability Rights' investigation, which included interviews with current and former Dominican Hall staff, found administrators failed to sufficiently supervise medical services, nurses and that other staff repeatedly reported frustration with the doctor's lack of accountability. It also said the staff reported being verbally reprimanded by the director for reporting concerns and felt their jobs were in jeopardy.
Disability Rights said all failed to report neglect allegations to the state as required, which could have saved M.H.'s life, and they weren't pursued until after he died. The legal services group, like counterparts in other states, has federal funding and authority for protection, advocacy and client assistance for disabled individuals.