There is a new disturbing realization emerging from our mental health care facilities regarding the safety of our nation's mentally ill and handicapped. They are among society's most vulnerable individuals and many of the people entrusted to watch over them are not doing their jobs. Many of the mentally disabled have been subjected to extreme cases of neglect as well as to unimaginable acts of abuse at the hands of their own caregivers. Sadly, most of these helpless individuals can not fend for themselves nor can they seek out the proper help needed because of severely limited mental capabilities. Unfortunately, many of these victims have no choice but to suffer in silence. This is all very shocking news but what is even more alarming is that this problem is much more rampant than had originally been thought.
Last week, police arrested Patrick Solis, 22, on suspicion of false imprisonment and dependant abuse while working as a caregiver at Jossen Vocational Academy in Anaheim. Solis was employed at the facility for at least five months before a cellular phone surfaced that contained videos police said reveal him beating and taunting two innocent developmentally disabled men. "They're like little children who can't protect themselves," Anaheim police Detective Cherie Hill said. “The men seen slapped and taunted in the video are both 38 but have the mental capacity of two-year-olds, and the suspect on the video targeted the most vulnerable of victims: two men who can barely talk. One only knows how to say 'Mama' and the sign language sign for bathroom.” This grainy cell phone picture of the incident, located above, shows the helpless men cowering, frightened, whimpering and crying. At one point, someone is heard clapping. Another is slapped and beckoned to come closer, only to be slapped again. The full video can be seen here. "What else happened that wasn't taped?" Anaheim police Sergeant Rick Martinez asked. "Nobody would've ever known had it not been for that video."
In another incident, Monique Marie Tetter, 25, pictured to the right, a caretaker working for The Department for Mental Health and Mental Retardation in Kentucky, pleaded not guilty last week for allegedly leaving Michelle Miller, a severely mentally disabled woman under her care, alone for at least ninety minutes. Police were called to an apartment on Thursday afternoon after a building employee spraying for insects found Miller, lying inside the door of Tetter's living room with a plastic bag over her head. "Thank God for that maintenance man," Roy Miller, the father of Michelle Miller, said. "You cannot leave her alone."
Just last May, in a highly publicized report from the Justice Department, dozens of group homes and caregivers from the Washington D.C. area were investigated for their roles in abuse and neglect of physically and mentally disabled residents, which resulted in fourteen "preventable and questionable" deaths since January 2003. Many of the residents were starved to death including Matthew 43, and Emily 60, who at the time of their deaths weighed less than fifty pounds. Other deaths resulted from intentional scalding with hot water, anemia, gangrene of the stomach, organ failure, and septic shock due to untreated illnesses. Many of the surviving mentally disabled residents of the group homes were beaten, berated, sexually accosted, neglected or targeted for theft, Justice lawyers noted. "These are human beings, just like anybody else, who just need a little extra attention and help from the District of Columbia," said council member Adrian M. Fenty, who heads the council's Committee on Human Services and has been working on the issue. "And they didn't get it. And it cost them their lives."
As a society we have a moral obligation to protect those who are less capable and to punish the culpable. Currently, the lack of adequate oversight, faulty state-licensed care facility policies, unqualified staff, lenient laws, and poor pay for our aides are causing us to fail in that obligation. The majority of the caregivers in the U.S. today are admirable professionals who work very diligently to care for the nation's mentally disabled. However, many are not quite as noble, such as Patrick Solis, pictured to the left. Thus it falls upon the rest of us to demand reform of the laws that govern many of the failing policies that permit these atrocities. For those who have died, and for those who still need our help, we must do better.
In order to report cases of abuse please contact the local law enforcement agencies or the California District Attorney's Association or the Office of the Attorney General.