We’re only two episodes in but the Star Tribune’s series this week — A Matter of Dignity — has already provided some of the most compelling journalism we’ve seen in awhile, as long as you don’t bother reading the comments, which are hateful even by newspaper comment section standards.
Today’s installment focused on group homes, which often pulls people from the neighborhoods and people they know, and drops them in the middle of nowhere. Why would we expect any other result than the one the Star Tribune documents?
In a state whose people pride themselves at being at the top of every trivial list, what are the odds being near the bottom of one that matters is going to stir action?
The bottom line is so ugly, it nearly invites the reader to look away.
• Minnesota relies more than any other state on group homes to house adults with disabilities, spending $1 billion annually for about 19,000 people in more than 4,500 facilities.
• While many group homes are safe and orderly, others are understaffed and chaotic. Each year, state regulators receive more than 700 reports of abuse, neglect, exploitation and serious injury at Minnesota group homes. In 2013, a federal judge became so alarmed at conditions facing group home residents that he appointed a special monitor to review their care.
• Scores of Minnesota’s group homes lie in remote rural settings, placing residents hours away from relatives who might assist with their care and check on their well-being. The Star Tribune analyzed records for more than 5,000 individuals and found that one-third were placed in group homes outside their home counties. Of these, hundreds live more than 100 miles from their home counties, often in small towns such as Hermantown in rural St. Louis County.
• In dozens of interviews, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities said they were sent to group homes against their will, even when they were capable of taking care of themselves.
Only a small minority of people with disabilities and mental illnesses ever make it out of group homes once they are admitted, the Star Tribune found. Promises of help often fail to materialize.
So far, however, the series has lacked a critical component: solutions.
“There are people living in group homes who probably could live in other settings, but either don’t know the options or don’t trust the options,’’ said Alex Bartolic, disability services director at the state Department of Human Services. “Everything has to change — our context and our way of coming at this.’’
There’s no hint that that’s about to happen.