- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A federal court has signed off on an end to special federal oversight of the Beatrice State Developmental Center.

The center for developmentally disabled people has been under federal scrutiny since 2006 because of a track record of failing to meet care standards and a U.S. Justice Department finding of patient neglect and abuse.

In a 2008 settlement, the state and federal governments agreed on a plan to fix the center’s problems. It called for on-site reviews of the southeastern Nebraska center by the U.S. Department of Justice and Disability Rights Nebraska, as well as the temporary loss of Medicaid certification and funding.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf granted a joint motion by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to terminate the settlement and lift federal oversight of the center.

“We’re pleased the U.S. Department of Justice recognizes the state’s commitment to improving services for people with developmental disabilities in Nebraska and the progress that has been made,” Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services CEO Courtney Phillips said. “We’ll continue to work hard to ensure individuals are being served in supportive and safe environments.”

A U.S. Justice Department investigation found about 200 cases of alleged neglect and abuse at the center between late 2006 and late 2007. Investigators discovered allegations that staff members shoved patients, called them names and played demeaning games. Staff members reportedly slept during shifts, leaving patients in clothing soaked with urine.

The state removed 47 residents considered medically fragile in January 2009, following the death of 18-year-old Olivia Manes. State officials acknowledged that Manes received inadequate care in the hours before she died, and the state agreed to a $600,000 settlement with her family.

In 2011, a state investigation uncovered fresh evidence that some staffers hit, slapped and choked the disabled residents. Sixteen staffers were suspended or fired, and five were convicted of criminal charges.

Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln is chairman of a special oversight committee that monitors the center’s progress. He said he was pleased with Monday’s decision but he now wants to make sure state officials develop long-term strategic planning for the center.

“We got in this position because we weren’t paying attention to what was going on down there,” he said. “My desire is to make sure that we continue to pay attention to the services there so that we don’t find ourselves back in this situation in the future.”

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