An investigation has been launched in Hunterdon County into the death of a disabled Little Silver woman who died two months after being removed from a state-licensed home for developmentally disabled adults, today’s Star-Ledger reports.
Twenty-six-year-old Tara Leary, who was born with scoliosis, fluid on the brain and cerebral palsy, weighed 48 pounds at the time of her death on November 10. Her death came two months after the state Division of Developmental Disabilities removed her and two housemates from their caretaker’s home in Bloomsbury following a report of mistreatment, the newspaper reports.
From the article:
In a press conference yesterday, O’Leary’s relatives and three Monmouth County lawmakers said the state “hindered” family members’ attempts to visit O’Leary and to play a larger role in the disabled woman’s life.
“We were told she was being well taken care of in a family that loved her,” said O’Leary’s cousin, Eileen Devlin of Little Silver. “Instead she laid in a bed starving and not cared for.”
Assemblywoman Carolyn Casagrande (R-Monmouth), who attended the news conference at Devlin’s home, urged the state attorney general to investigate and the Department of Human Services to fire the employees involved.
“From the top down, everyone needs to answer for Tara O’Leary’s death here,” Casagrande said.
O’Leary’s caseworker has been suspended, as has the caregiver’s state license.
Human Services spokeswoman Pam Ronan said the state’s investigation began Sept. 11, when officials received a tip describing “concerns about the care” of three disabled people living in the home. The state removed all three residents that day. The other disabled residents were not ill or injured.
The state is investigating whether the caseworker made the required monthly visits to the caretaker’s home and the bi-monthly face-to-face check on the disabled people living there, Ronan said.
“We are looking at all events and care of the individual during the time she lived at the home and to the time of her passing,” she said.
O’Leary moved into the Bloomsbury home in 1998. During a doctor’s visit in September 2007, she weighed 95 pounds, thin but not alarmingly so for a woman who stood just 4-foot-10.
Devlin said her cousin suffered needlessly because the people supervising her case didn’t pay attention. No one noticed she had been absent from a day program for two years, or that she never had a court-recognized guardian.
A relative who was expected to take guardianship after O’Leary’s father died three years ago did not, leading to confusion about legal guardianship. Family members said they were not permitted to visit her inside the home, or even to know its location.
After O’Leary’s hospitalization, she gained more than 20 pounds with a feeding tube, but her condition remained serious. She was removed from life support Nov. 7.
“She was emaciated,” Devlin said. “She was in pain, even on morphine.”
O’Leary’s deterioration and death, made public yesterday by family members and lawmakers, has spawned a criminal investigation by the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office and an internal probe by the state Department of Human Services.
In addition, state workers will visit 620 similar homes — each state-funded and state-licensed — to ensure the safety of the 1,253 disabled adults living in them, Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez said.
“Our sincerest condolences are with the family during this difficult time,” Velez said in a statement. “This death is unacceptable on many levels, and we’re doing all we can to scrutinize every aspect and prevent tragedies such as this from occurring again.”