Is Settlement Enough In Local Autism Abuse Case?


According to a report in The Times Union, Michael and Lisa Carey, the parents of a 13-year-old autistic boy who died while in state care, have recently settled the lawsuit they had filed against a private facility the child had previously attended. The suit was brought against the Anderson Center for Autism, located in Staatsburg, Dutchess County, after the child’s parents learned that health care workers had withheld food from their son, Jonathan, and discovered him naked in his room, covered in bruises and no longer toilet-trained. They immediately removed him from the Center.

However, Jonathan’s nightmare was not over yet. After Jonathan’s parents withdrew him from Anderson, he was place in O.D. Heck Center, a state-run facility located in Niskayuna, New York. In February 2007, Jonathan died after suffocation while being restrained by a staff member during a trip off of the premises.

According to the Times Union, O.D. Heck Center is operated by New York State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. O.D. Heck Center has no affiliation with the Anderson facility. One of the O.D. Heck Center staff members pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and another was convicted of manslaughter.

The Careys, whose activism following their son’s death resulted in the passage of enhanced state disclosure laws regarding the disabled, are also suing O.D. Heck for their son’s death.

I am glad that The Carey’s activism resulted in enhanced disclosure laws for the disabled, however I am still concerned for those patients that continue to work at both facilities. I do not think that the reaching of a settlement solves any of the problems that the facility obviously has. According to an article published in The Times Union, many of the staffers who were at Anderson during Jonathan’s stay are still employed. Additionally, Anderson was licensed by New York State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, the same agency that operated O.D. Heck. I am concerned that these state agencies are not providing the amount of oversight and training required to ensure that this tragedy never happens again.