Report: Safety risks at Wyo. center for disabled

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Residents at a state facility for the developmentally disabled in central Wyoming are exposed to significant safety and suicide risks because of easy access to dangerous items and old and poorly maintained buildings, according to investigators with a disability advocacy group.

At the Wyoming Life Resource Center in Lander, staff failed to secure hazardous areas, lock away potentially harmful chemicals and address potential suicide risks, the group reported.

The report was produced last month by Wyoming Protection & Advocacy System Inc., a nonprofit that investigates abuse and neglect of people with disabilities, the Casper Star-Tribune reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/GPgIx7). The document urges state officials to change an “observed culture of indifference” at the center and perform an inspection led by the Wyoming fire marshal.

“We don’t want to frighten anybody,” said Jeanne Thobro, Protection & Advocacy System’s chief executive. “We don’t want a panic or an overreaction. But, at the same time, there is a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of people there.”

State health officials insist the center is safe for residents and has already taken steps to address some of the concerns, including potential suicide risks.

The state and an outside expert have been reviewing how the facility operates and a more thorough review is being planned, said Chris Newman, a senior administrator with the state Department of Health.

But officials are examining Protection & Advocacy System’s findings.

“While we have processes in place to initially react to all of those incidents . when we get a report like that, we absolutely sit down and review it,” Newman told the newspaper. “Are they identifying something we didn’t see?”

The report comes amid increased scrutiny of the center and its role in caring for one of the Wyoming’s most vulnerable populations. State health officials are expecting to deliver a report to lawmakers next month that examines whether some residents could receive less expensive care in their own communities.

About 90 people live at the center. Most have severe developmental disabilities.

The report said investigators observed unlocked cabinets and storage areas containing dangerous chemicals. Some people living at the center ingested “aerosol contents and a bottle of Wite-Out,” according to the report.

The investigation also found unlocked doors leading to unsupervised areas and unsecured knives, scissors and cords that people could use to harm themselves.

“It is essential that the suicide risks related to the environment in which persons are housed are understood before someone successfully commits suicide at this institution,” the report said.

Other dangerous conditions noted include a broken heater vent, an unsecured swamp cooler and an improperly designed or unregulated hot water system, the report said.

Newman said that experts have visited the center to make changes designed to keep residents safe from suicide and that the failure to lock away dangerous chemicals and other items was dealt with before the report was published.

Health Department spokeswoman Kim Deti said the center’s director, Virginia Wright, retired last week.

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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