The suit blasts Bellwether–also known as AdvoServ Inc–for abusing mentally disabled students and under-training its poorly-paid employees.
Maryland is suing Bellwether, accusing the for-profit group home operator of keeping mentally disabled students across the state in filthy, “Dickensian” conditions.
State Attorney General Brian Frosh’s suit alleges an array of abuses, ranging from squalid rooms to a lack of supervision. Medication disbursals were also routinely refused, with some students denied access to prescriptions hundreds of times.
“Although presenting themselves as a modern, progressive facility able to provide behavioral, medical, and educational services to this special-needs population, the reality was more Dickensian,” the complaint says.
Bellwether—based in Delaware and also known as AdvoServ Inc—contracts with both states.
“We allege that AdvoServ failed to deliver services it was hired to provide to the children in its care and that its failures endangered the health and safety of those children,” Frosh said in a statement.
A medical records review by the attorney general’s office summarized discrepancies in the reports of 10 Maryland children. Between them, they’d been refused or otherwise denied prescription medication no fewer than 717 times.
Along with inadequate medical regimes, Bellwether facilities were chronically under-staffed.
We have not forgotten that Maryland children suffered while in the care of AdvoServ: we're taking this company, now calling themselves Bellwether Behavioral Trade, to court to recover the money Maryland paid them to care for our children, plus penalties. https://t.co/d7KqXXDVEG
— Brian Frosh (@BrianFrosh) July 11, 2019
A ProPublica investigation, published in 2015, found many problems in Bellwether homes. Along with providing sub-par housing and inadequate medical facilities, AdvoServ encouraged the use of controversial restraints and behavioral modification techniques. Uncooperative or unruly students were sometimes chained and strapped into chairs, left alone until they’d calm.
One girl, says ProPublica, sustained a broken nose and injured her elbow as staff sought to control her. That case ended with criminal charges against a worker, who’d allegedly punched the girl.
Other staff members were accused of sexual abuse, too. A Maryland AdvoServ employee was frequently seen entering a female resident’s bedroom—but neither ordinary workers nor supervisors intervened.
The employee and girl later absconded.
Many of ProPublica’s conclusion were reaffirmed by Frosh’s office, which said Bellwether provides poor-quality training and sub-par pay. That’s despite Maryland paying the company more than $230,000 a year to care for each child in its charge.
According to the attorney general’s office, the company failed to “provide even minimally adequate care to the children under [its] protection.”
“Throughout 2015 and 2016,” the suit says, “AdvoServ continue to demonstrate a pattern of lackadaisical (at best) or non-existent (at worst) supervision of the children in its care.”
ProPublcia notes that Bellwether ‘has provided care and schooling for hundreds of children and adults with severe developmental disabilities and mental illnesses’ in Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia and Florida. Poor conditions appear to have been common across state lines, with the company forced to vacate many of its residents from its New Jersey facilities.