May 25, 2012

Dad shares special-needs abuse experiences


PLATTSBURGH — A Tupper Lake man shared the story of abuse and neglect allegedly suffered by his son, illustrating the need for legislation to protect those with special needs.

Speaking at a local presentation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to create the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, David Dechene said his 50-year-old son, David Jr., was born with congenital birth defects that caused learning disabilities and seizures. He remained in their home until he was about 20 and has spent the last 30 years in group-home settings.

Dechene said that while many of the people who have worked with his son are honest, hard-working and caring, there are, unfortunately, some abusive or neglectful employees whose behavior falls through the cracks.

"We don't want them in the system," he said.


In one group home, Dechene said, a caregiver who didn't like David Jr. used to turn a large ring around on his finger and use it to smack his son on the top of the head. If his son yelled, the employee would kick him in the shins.

The caregiver was turned in by two other residents of the group home. Staff checked and saw the bruises and swelling, then called the Dechenes and placed the caregiver on leave as Sunmount officials conducted an investigation.

The investigation proved inconclusive, Dechene said, so the two residents would have had to testify in court. To prevent that, the family reached an agreement that the caregiver would be moved away from their son. That employee eventually moved out of state.

A sad part of the story, Dechene said, is that the man had a daughter with a disability. He wonders what might have been happening to her.

David Jr. later moved to a smaller group home, where he was one of four residents. Dechene said it provided a much better atmosphere, with more frequent activities.

Because of his condition, David Jr. was supposed to be in the presence of staff at all times. Dechene said he got a call one night that his son had fallen in the shower and was being transported to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake.

He spoke with the caregiver involved, who told him that he had reached for a towel and that, during that time, David Jr. fell.

"I didn't believe him," Dechene said.


He made frequent visits to the home and was always welcome. But he went one night, some time after the incident, and saw his son alone in the shower, naked, while the caregiver was talking on the phone.

When the caregiver saw Dechene, he quickly ran into the room and got David Jr. dressed. Dechene said he didn't report it because he knew it would be his word against the employee's.

Another time, he saw the caregiver grab one of the other consumers by the collar and drag him down the hall, tell him to put on his pajamas and go to bed, because he had done something to annoy him.

Weeks later, at one of the regularly scheduled meetings to discuss his son's care, Dechene said he grew frustrated as the manager touted her excellent staff. He reported the incident.

Eventually, the employee was removed from that group home but was placed in a job at another facility. He eventually stopped working for the state.

"I believe the abuse and neglect my son endured was 100 percent preventable if we had had better screening of these individuals," Dechene said.

"Gov. Cuomo is taking the real step to reform the system and protect vulnerable individuals like David, who most need it."

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