Oakwood just part of nightmare

Some have long said that Oakwood is an unjustified drain on public resources. The money could be better spent, they argue, serving greater numbers of Kentuckians who have mental retardation in smaller, less costly settings closer to their families.

There's no disputing that Oakwood has become a financial drain on the state now that the federal government has ended funding of the Somerset institution because of a record of brutality and neglect.

At a time of financial struggle, the state must come up with an additional $3.5 million a month to replace the lost federal share.

Legislators recently expressed frustration that officials are not moving faster to seek Oakwood's recertification, which would restart the flow of federal dollars.

But the reason for the delay is obvious. Oakwood couldn't yet make the grade.

Opened 36 years ago at the end of the era of institutionalization, Oakwood must pass the same test as a new facility seeking certification.

Among the requirements: Each of Oakwood's 200-plus residents must have a therapy plan that the caregivers know and understand. That's not too much to ask of an institution that spends more than $300,000 a year per resident. That it remains a hurdle says a lot about the low quality of life available to those who live at Oakwood.

Two years ago, Oakwood had become a place where no one was safe. Under the management of the Lexington-based Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board, Oakwood residents are much safer. And that's a huge relief.

But Oakwood is still not — and never will be — a place where residents can live full lives or realize their potential as human beings. And, as John Cheves recently reported in the Herald-Leader, Oakwood is still not entirely safe or accountable.

An examination of records revealed that residents still are hurt by staff, poor medical care and one another. Internal investigations are flawed and incomplete, and state inspectors say they've been harassed and threatened with personal lawsuits by Bluegrass president Joseph Toy and his staff, a charge denied by Toy, who last week announced his retirement.

For several years now, we've said that Oakwood has outlived its usefulness and should be closed.

Officials in the last administration made strong efforts to find new homes for those at Oakwood, and the population has declined from 400 to 221.

But Oakwood can't close until there are places for all its residents. And recent days have brought disturbing news about community-based alternatives to Oakwood:

In Carter County, a grand jury indicted nine employees of an adult-care facility where a 25-year-old mentally retarded resident died last year. Two other employees had already been indicted for manslaughter in the death of Michael Price.

In Mercer County, a residential facility for adults and children, New Hope Agency, is being investigated for allegations of abuse, including the rape of a resident. The director has been charged with sexual abuse and rape of former employees.

If it's true that a society should be judged by how it treats its weakest members, Kentucky is failing tragically.