Hundreds of thousands of Americans suffer from developmental disabilities like cerebral palsy and mental retardation. In California, some of the most severely disabled are cared for at several state-run facilities with around-the-clock supervision.
But while the state spends about $300,000 a year on each patient, an investigation by Eyewitness News media partner California Watch has uncovered a pattern of abuse and neglect at the centers and a failure to hold staff and administrators accountable.
When he was a child, Van Ingraham was diagnosed with mental retardation and severe autism. As he grew older, his family found they could not cope with his disabilities.
“It became very clear that he was not going to be able to ever talk or function on his own, in society,” said Larry Ingraham.
The Ingrahams turned to Fairview Developmental Center in Orange County. It’s one of five state-run institutions in California for those with severe developmental disabilities, serving roughly 2,000 patients who need full-time supervision and care.
“We would go up and visit and Van seemed happy there,” said Larry.
But one day in 2007, Larry Ingraham, a retired police officer, got a call that his brother Van had been rushed to the hospital.
“He was in ICU, intensive care, Hoag Memorial Hospital,” said Larry. “I’ve seen a lot of bad sights in my life, but this is one of the worst.”
The staff at Fairview Developmental Center said Van had simply fallen out of bed. But a neurosurgeon at the hospital said Van’s injury was no accident.
“They said either your brother was bodysurfing at The Wedge in Huntington Beach and had a severe impact into the sand with a large wave, or somebody did this to your brother,” said Larry.
Van Ingraham died as result of his injuries.
If Van had been an ordinary citizen, his death would likely have been investigated by local police. But California’s developmental centers have their own in-house police force, hired by the same administrators who run the centers. In Van’s case, those in-house police waited five days before interviewing potential suspects.
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Questions Surround State Agency in Wake of Autistic Man’s Death