A settlement between the state of Texas and the U.S. Department of Justice in 2009 should have at least started showing signs of improvement at 13 State Supported Living Centers, home to hundreds of residents with severe developmental disabilities. But according to the state’s federally designated watchdog agency for Texans with disabilities, not much has changed. “It’s still deplorable,” Beth Mitchell, supervising attorney for the advocacy group Disability Rights Texas, told QueQue. Although Texas agreed to comply with some 171 provisions to ensure residents mental and physical health and safety by 2013, the most recent Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services monitoring report, dated October 22 but released to the public last week, shows the San Antonio State Supported Living Center, like 12 others across the state, is far from meeting those goals. Most troubling, Mitchell says, is the high number of complaints of abuse and neglect that continue unabated. In San Antonio’s report, DADS monitors reported 95 such cases, 22 percent of which were confirmed between February and late July of 2011, including 10 cases of physical abuse, one of emotional and verbal abuse, and another 16 cases of neglect. (Forty-three percent of cases were unconfirmed, 19 percent deemed inconclusive, and other 10 percent were referred back to the facility for reporting problems, the monitoring report shows.) Among the confirmed cases: one center employee dragged a resident across the floor by his belt. In another instance, an employee “physically attacked an individual by grabbing him by the neck, slamming him into the closet, then throwing him to the floor,” state monitors wrote. Monitors also noted 23 serious injuries between February and late July 2011, during which five residents died at the San Antonio Center.
Federal investigators started looking into Texas’ state-supported living centers after the DOJ wrote a scathing report in 2006 on the state’s Lubbock facility, noting that 17 residents had died in nearly as many months. Two years later, DOJ investigated all 13 centers, and eventually threatened legal action if Texas didn’t agree to a settlement. And Mitchell fears the problem may be deeper than just the cases confirmed in state reports. “A lot of times you can’t confirm cases because you have individuals that simply can’t communicate,” she said. For instance, in 2009 seven staffers at the Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center were fired for forcing disabled residents into staged fights at the facility. The workers were only caught when police discovered a lost cell phone with videos of the fights. “Some of the issues [monitors] are identifying are very significant, serious issues,” said Mitchell. “You’ve got people with chronic diseases who don’t have appropriate lab monitoring and medication use. … Do you know how quickly you can spiral down if you don’t get the appropriate lab work? And these are individuals who can’t necessarily communicate when they’re starting to feel bad.”
The San Antonio Center only hit 24 of the 171 benchmarks laid out by the DOJ, and DADS monitors questioned why 10 percent of the center’s residents had standing Do Not Resuscitate orders, even though none had terminal conditions — far from standard practice, Mitchell said.
While the Express-News reports minimal numbers of bank accounts were closed in favor of Texas credit unions in San Antonio (where more than half of residents are already credit-union members) during Saturday’s “Bank Transfer Day,” they should have interviewed the folks at Randolph Brooks Credit Union. “Yeah, I don’t think they talked to us,” said Sonya McDonald, senior vice president of market development, with a small laugh. “We were probably too busy to talk.” Randolph Brooks opened 727 new accounts on Saturday (“a record for us,” McDonald said) after closing out a booming October in which the member-owned institution experienced a 93 percent increase in new checking accounts over October 2010.
Statewide the Texas Credit Union League reports a “surge” in traffic corresponding with an online movement opposing new banking fees that the Occupy movement has adopted as their own. Credit unions in Texas bolstered their numbers before November 2 by 47,000 Texans representing $326 million (nationwide that figure was placed at 650,000 new accounts by the League). “We have, in fact, experienced tremendous growth in Texas,” said Linda Webb-Manon, the League’s vice president of communications. “People are looking for another way to do business and the cooperative business model is just becoming more attractive.”
Preliminary numbers provided by Webb-Manon suggest that twice the normal number of new accounts were opened statewide the month prior to Saturday’s event — and four times the number of new accounts opened with credit unions on Bank Transfer Day proper. “It’s the Bank Transfer Day, but also the United Nations has declared 2012 its International Year of Cooperatives,” she said. “That really sends a very strong message that the cooperative business model works. It’s good for our communities, it’s great for our economy.”
Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions owned by their respective memberships as opposed to for-profit banks, many of which participated in the excessive risk-taking that put us on the brink.
Although Texas climate scientists have come out strongly against Governor Rick Perry’s contrarian view on global warming, that didn’t stop State Representative Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels, from declaring that the state climatologist this week said there was no link between the current drought and ongoing human-induced climate change. “I know there’s a lot of theories… [and] I’m not looking for a debate on this, because the jury’s still out for me,” Rep. Miller said last Thursday at a gathering at a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality summit in Schertz intended to examine issues along the I-35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio.
Miller said he had sat in on a committee meeting the previous day in which Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said global warming was not a factor in the current drought. The 2011 drought ranks as the worst one-year drought in historic record, and the accompanying heat broke the record books nationally. “The situation we’re in is not a part of global warming,” Miller told the gathering. “They were not able to scientifically tell us it was part of global warming.”
The meeting in which Nielsen-Gammon supposedly made this declaration was one of the state House Natural Resource Committee of which Miller is a member. Asked afterward about his characterization of Nielsen-Gammon’s position on the science, Miller told QueQue that the committee had “not asked many questions,” but that he personally had “written that point down.” Those in the audience who were familiar with Neilson-Gammon murmured the comment was unlikely. And contacted later in the day Neilson-Gammon didn’t remember his presentation quite the same way, either. “Global warming contributed to the high temperatures, especially with this drought. So it enhanced evaporation and decreased water supply and therefore made the drought more intense then it would otherwise have been,” he told the Current Thursday afternoon. “I mentioned global warming was a factor, that future droughts would be more strongly effected by evaporation because of it, but it wasn’t going to be the primary driver on future water stress within the state.”
Miller’s mischaracterization of climate science follows by a few weeks the TCEQ’s editing out references to climate change from scientific research produced for an annual report on the health of Galveston Bay. When asked after his presentation who he relies on for his understanding of climate change, Miller referenced Nielson-Gammon, “and others.” But he added that he doesn’t think his understanding of climate change is relevant to his role as a state legislator. “Maybe if I were a U.S. Senator or something and dealing with national policy. I’m looking at local issues that we can affect now,” he said. The task of Wednesday’s gathering of the Natural Resources Committee was to examine the current drought and how it impacts the state’s water plan and “identify short-term and long-term strategies to help the state better cope with drought and assess any obstacles, including state and federal regulations, to implementation of these strategies.”
Miller is the House Rep from District 73 representing Bandera, Comal, Gillespie, and Kendall Counties. •
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.