FRANKFORT — Federal justice department officials have stopped monitoring Oakwood, a Somerset facility for the mentally disabled, citing improved conditions at the long-troubled facility, state officials announced Wednesday.
Oakwood has been under the court-ordered supervision of the U.S. Department of Justice since 2006, when the state entered an agreement with the federal government after longstanding problems at the Somerset campus.
The facility, which at one time housed more than 200 people, had been cited by state officials more than 24 times in a two-year period.
Two of those citations involved the deaths of residents.
"The lifting of the agreement reflects the tremendous amount of progress made at Oakwood in recent years," Gov. Steve Beshear said in a statement.
Oakwood, which now has 112 residents and remains the state's largest home for people with disabilities, has teetered on the verge of closure for years. Oakwood lost the federal portion of its Medicaid funding in 2008 because of continuing problems there. That funding was restored after improvements were made.
The settlement agreement stemmed from a 2001 Department of Justice investigation into civil rights complaints at the facility.
The Department of Justice has monitored the facility during the past five years to ensure Oakwood's compliance with the agreement between the state and federal government.
The state struggled for years to figure out how to make improvements at the facility. In 2005, Kentucky hired a private company, Liberty, to run Oakwood, but problems continued and costs escalated.
In 2006, the contract to manage Oakwood went to Bluegrass Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board, a community mental health organization that also has the contract to manage Eastern State Hospital, a state psychiatric hospital.
Janie Miller, secretary for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which oversees Oakwood, said Bluegrass was key to the removal of federal oversight.
"The removal of the settlement agreement marks an important milestone in our efforts to provide the highest quality of care these residents deserve," Miller said.
Shannon Ware, the president and CEO of Bluegrass, said Wednesday that when the group took over in 2006, Oakwood's problems were so complex, Bluegrass first focused solely on patient safety and improving working conditions.
There was high turnover in top management at Oakwood, and staff members were working overtime. Bluegrass even moved some of its top management to Somerset to implement management practices that had worked well in its other programs.
"We cleaned up things, we created an infrastructure, we brought sound business management policies and technology, and we appreciated the good staff we inherited while moving out those who were problematic," Ware said of Bluegrass' strategy.
The group set time lines and specific goals for the Oakwood staff and never wavered from those goals, she said.
The court-appointed federal monitor has consistently given Oakwood high marks during his visits in the past year, Ware said. The order releasing Oakwood from federal oversight was entered Sept. 29.
"For me personally, the turnaround of this facility, and the success we witness every day translated into improved quality of life for so many individuals, has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever been privileged to be a part of," Ware said.