Thursday, October 23, 2008

A man with disabilities dies before receiving the DC help he needed and was qualified for because of a "fatal focus on paperwork protocol"

The Washington Post reports that the District of Columbia Mayor Adrian M. Fenty admitted at a news conference on Tuesday that the city had mishandled the case of the man, known as "Mr Johnson," and that a city investigation is planned. Here is an excerpt that goes someway towards describing the details surrounding the case:

Mr. Johnson, the pseudonym used by lawyers who took up the man's case in recent years, was hit by a bus when he was a toddler, in the 1940s. Doctors concluded that he was left mentally disabled, and for decades he remained at home under his mother's care.

When the mother died 15 years ago, the man's well-being fell to a volunteer who cleaned, shopped and tried to arrange medical care from the city's agency for the mentally disabled. But the volunteer's efforts could not keep the man from living in squalor, hurting himself, skipping his medication and ultimately dying in a diabetic coma.

Mr. Johnson was caught in a bureaucratic loop. Because his childhood care was provided by his mother, he was not part of the government system and therefore was denied services as an adult, according to a report released by University Legal Services last week.

Instead of getting the services the man needed and qualified for, "he was rejected," Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said at a news conference he called yesterday in response to The Washington Post's questions about the case. "The Department of Disabilities Services, upon review of the records, mishandled the case on two occasions."

The legal advocacy group said it wrote the report to shine a light on a bureaucracy's fatal focus on paperwork protocol that kept a person in need from getting help.

"We have other clients like him who have been waiting around for services, and they are denied services simply because they don't have the right records, usually documents from D.C. public schools," said Mary Nell Clark, managing attorney for University Legal Services.