Friday, November 28, 2008

28-year-old disabled woman's death is under investigation

Camden, New Jersey - Prosecutors and the state Department of Human Services are investigating the death on November 10, 2008, of 28 year-old Tara O’Leary, who lived in a New Jersey-licensed community care residence for adults with developmental disabilities in Hunterdon County in central New Jersey. As reported by the Associated Press and the Star Ledger, Ms O'Leary was born with scoliosis, fluid on her brain and cerebral palsy. She moved into the Bloomsbury home in 1998. According to her cousin, Eileen Devlin, medical records showed that O’Leary, (who was 4′10″) weighed 95 pounds at a doctor’s visit in September 2007. In August 2008, however, when an aunt, Patricia O’Leary, saw her, she was “gaunt, with unwashed hair and shoes on the wrong feet.” O’Leary had not had a guardian since the death of her father in 2005 and her aunt asked to be her legal guardian.

Once she was taken from the home, Tara O’Leary lived in an institution for a little over a week before she was taken to Hunterdon Medical Center suffering from dehydration, malnutrition and bedsores and septic shock, Devlin said. She weighed just 48 pounds at check-in.

Devlin said that with a feeding tube, her cousin’s weight rose to more than 70 pounds by November, but her overall medical condition did not improve. She died Nov. 10, days after she, Patricia O’Leary and another cousin became her legal guardians and decided to take her off life support.

Two other women who lived in the home, one of whom had also lost a dangerous amount of weight, were also removed. There were reportedly not ill or injured.

According to Ms O'Leary's relatives, attempts by family members to visit her were "hindered" by the state:

Relatives said that after Tara O'Leary's father died, they were able to visit her sporadically. They said they were never allowed to see her in the home where she was living - over even to know exactly where it was.

Ms O'Leary's caseworker has been suspended and the home's license has been revoked. In addition, state workers will visit 620 similar state-funded and licensed residences to ensure the well-being of the 1,255 residents living in them. Jennifer Velez, commissioner of the Department of Human Services, made this statement:

“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.”

Yes, unacceptable. I wonder why a guardian wasn't appointed after the death of Ms O'Leary's father three years ago.