Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 1, 2013

Northern Lakes board delays decision

TRAVERSE CITY —Northern Lakes Community Mental Health board members won’t discipline their top official despite the state’s recent finding that he put profoundly disabled adults at risk on public buses.

And board members questioned why state officials reversed an earlier decision that found Gregory Paffhouse innocent of wrongdoing.

Paffhouse, Northern Lakes’ chief executive officer, at a special board meeting on Thursday, read from a three-page document that outlined actions he and his staff took to protect the agency’s severely disabled bus riders following an August 2011 bus assault. That’s when a Northern Lakes client repeatedly beat and choked another client during a 90-minute bus ride.

“Northern Lakes immediately responded to the Aug. 22, 2011 incident,” Paffhouse said.

The assailant immediately was taken off the bus, and the victim did not require medical attention. Paffhouse spoke in his defense at Thursday’s meeting called to discuss a state report that recommended he be disciplined.

Paffhouse said he learned of the August incident on Oct. 25. His staff subsequently met several times in November to determine what other clients were vulnerable so their service plans could be changed to include bus supervision. They also discussed finding alternative transportation and their intent to use Medicaid funding to pay for aides.

Northern Lakes CMH pays the Bay Area Transportation Authority to transport developmentally disabled clients to and from training and work sites. The August beating triggered a widespread investigation that found 67 vulnerable clients rode buses without supervision, despite diagnoses ranging from profound cognitive impairment, serious medical conditions, and mental illness, including some riders with a known history of violent behavior.

A Northern Lakes investigation revealed about two dozen incidents of assaults, self-harm, and inappropriate sexual behavior over 18 months on contracted BATA buses.

Paffhouse said he strongly disagrees with the state’s newest conclusions that place him at fault for putting clients at risk of harm. The Feb. 20 state report said Paffhouse failed to follow the “standard of care” when informed of the urgent need for staff supervision on buses.

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