A complaint of abuse, neglect, and abandonment has been filed against the Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC) and the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) on behalf of an adult woman with special needs.
According to a family member, Christel Velez, a 30-year-old resident of a group home in Somerset County, was left naked in a room for long hours on several occasions, denied food and water, and exposed to ongoing physical and verbal abuse. Furthermore, when the family member attempted to resolve the matter, Velez was expelled from the group home, forcing the family member who is not the parent and lives alone in an apartment, to take Velez in.
Velez’s sister, Michelle Mello, has attempted to cooperatively resolve the situation with both the ARC and DDD, but to no avail. Mello reports that both the ARC and DDD have been dragging their feet for many months, rather than attempt to seek a solution.
The complaint indicates that Velez’s treatment has been a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). Moreover, the expulsion of Velez from the group home, ostensibly as a possible move to make the case disappear, may render a criminal complaint against the ARC and the DDD.
This writer, a Disability Policy Specialist, has agreed to represent Velez and Mello as an Advocate for people with disabilities. According to Mello, Christel Velez is now in need of psychological counseling in order to treat the trauma that occurred as a result of the ongoing abuse.
It has been reported in recent publications by this writer that, according to Nursing home studies, direct care providers in group homes, nursing homes and other residential facilities are often low-paid workers who are frustrated from being “over-worked and under-paid”. Frequently, these individuals will take out their frustration on the clients that they are providing care for. In addition, the clients with developmental disabilities are often unable to verbalize the abuse because of the limited communication skills as a result of their disability.
According to the Nursing Home Abuse Center, residential facilities:
“...are profit-driven businesses and during tough economic times good business practice and quality control can suffer in favor of short-sighted profits, quotas, and corner cutting. Businesses in trouble do not generally announce this; rather, they simply cover their tracks as best as they can. Cutbacks in hours and wages have a great impact on employee attitudes, which can easily translate to mistreatment, neglect, and even abuse...”
In addition, there appears to be a very weak screening process for examining the background of such workers. In fact, it is possible for someone with a criminal record to complete the background check process and become a caregiver to vulnerable individuals in residential settings.
The complaint has been filed with the Office of Licensing, Unusual Incident Reporting Department, and Special Response Unit of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, and listed as: “Complaint against Mobus Group Home”.
This writer, as a representative of Velez and Mello, attempted to contact the Director of Residential Services for the Somerset ARC weeks ago, and has yet to receive a response.
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a Disability Policy Specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law School.