Lawsuit alleges Washington state’s Rainier School ‘dangerous’

The lawsuit, filed by a disability rights group, wants the facility to stop accepting new residents and find new housing options for residents who want to leave.

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Two people with developmental disabilities and the Seattle-based advocacy group Disability Rights Washington (DRW) filed a lawsuit against Washington state Friday for allegedly operating the Rainier School in Pierce County in a way that residents there continuously involves risk of harm, neglect and death.

Rainier State School is in the small town of Buckley one of four state-run facilities in Washington state for people with developmental disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome and epilepsy. State Records Showing the four, the Rainier School is the most troubled facility, with a disturbing history of resident deaths, sexual assault, medical neglect, incidents of asphyxia and malnutrition.

The lawsuit, filed Friday, alleges the Rainier School, with 130 vulnerable residents living at the facility, is a “dangerous place to live” and that the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), charged with running the facility, committed “willful default”. , to protect local residents from serious damage.

“This place has proven dangerous time and time again,” said Beth Leonard of DRW, lead counsel on the case. “DRW could no longer stand by and see people being put at risk.”

The lawsuit asks the DSHS to comply with regulations in several areas where state and federal regulars have repeatedly identified shortcomings at the Rainier School, including a failure to ensure sufficient staff are available to adequately ensure the safety of residents . It also urges the state to immediately stop accepting new residents and to move out current residents as soon as possible for those who so desire.

Specific claims cited in the complaint over the last two years included:

  • A 77-year-old resident in Harborview had an eye removed after Rainier staff allegedly failed to provide adequate medical care for an eye infection.
  • A 42-year-old resident migrated from the Rainier School and was never found. He is presumed dead.
  • In 2021, a resident was hospitalized after drinking cleaning fluid. The resident had known behaviors of eating inedible objects, including swallowing a lightbulb and ingesting cleaning fluid, which he previously had at the Rainier School.
  • That year, one resident suffocated. Regulators found that staff were not properly trained in preventing choking behaviors.

A DSHS spokesman said the agency could not comment on the litigation but said the people in their care are their top priority.

“Our priority is always doing what is in the best interests and safety of our customers,” said Lisa Pemberton, media relations specialist with the DSHS’s Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA).

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Federal regulators are threatening to decertify part of Rainier

State and federal regulators have given the state multiple chances to bring the Rainier School into compliance. Repeated violations have resulted in federal funds currently being blocked from new borrowings. In July, the state health agency, which oversees state Medicaid funding for the Rainier School, wrote a letter to the DSHS stating its intention to end “certification” of one of the facility’s two residential sections. Losing certification would mean losing federal funding for the portion of the Rainier School where about half of the residents live.

“I’m concerned for the residents that are still there,” said Arlene Greathouse of Snoqualmie. Her grandson, Gavin, 20, is a former Rainier School resident and one of two plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Arlene said Gavin’s life was thrown off balance during his 18 months at the Rainier School because the staff didn’t follow proper behavior plans. According to the lawsuit, direct caregivers repeatedly physically and medically restrained Gavin and administered too many drugs to keep him compliant.

Arlene said Gavin’s team at DDA is doing a “great job” in helping find positions for Gavin and attending to his needs, but the Rainier School experience was a traumatic setback.

“His life was hard for Rainier. He went from someone who sang and danced and told jokes to someone who could only speak for a few minutes. He slurred his words, I could barely understand him,” Arlene said. “I thought I could trust these people to take care of him, but in retrospect I found out that wasn’t the case.” Lawsuit alleges Washington state’s Rainier School ‘dangerous’

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