Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 17, 2013

Forum: Treating people with disabilities

BY DR. RICH VISINGARDI

---- — I applaud the Record-Eagle for continuing to cover the local recipient rights issue. It is obviously having an impact on both the citizens and the manner in which our government is being forced to address the problem.

In the 1970s Michigan became the first state to introduce comprehensive law regarding the need to oversee and protect the rights of people with disabilities. Given the known severe rights problems in our institutions the state demonstrated the wisdom to ensure these protections were carried into the community.

Recipient Rights staff has investigatory authority. As such, they may encounter situations not unlike a police officer where they are dreaded and despised. Not unlike a police officer, they are to maintain standards of professional practice as they carry out these difficult functions. The Advisory Committees do monitor their efforts, including the manner in which they work and are best informed of potential problems.

Anyone working in this field long enough will become involved in a recipient rights investigation, as the subject of the investigation, a witness or the individual that reported the allegation. As such they, too, have a responsibility for their conduct. They are to fully cooperate with the investigation and be truthful. They do not lose their own rights in this process as they may engage legal counsel at any time.

As for their “feelings” or perceptions, particularly for well-compensated leaders, they simply are not relevant. Executive Directors are to conduct their review of investigatory reports and recommendations as related to the thoroughness of the methods that were applied and, if satisfied, implement the changes needed vigilantly and expeditiously.

Regardless of intentional or non-intentional rights-related problems often, as was in this case, recipient rights are dealing with issues where serious harm and even death may result if the problems are not adequately addressed.

While many of our local public mental health systems treat recipient rights as it should be and in spite of the continued positive system reform efforts the problem of the inherent conflict of interest in recipient rights being part of the local public mental health agency continues to be an issue.

It may be time for Gov. Snyder to consider moving the state Office of Recipient Rights from the Michigan Department of Community Health to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. It may also be time for Director Haveman to consider shifting the local Recipient Rights system to independent regional authorities.

On a final note, this story is very important as is the larger issue of folks with disabilities being recognized not as objects of pity or dangerous or discounted as a labeled disability but rather as real human beings and full citizens. Granted, the need for support is important but we are interdependent by nature - we all suffer great pain and traumas and experience great joys and accomplishments and all include the love and care of folks.

In this regard, people with disabilities are no different than any other folks.

About the author: Dr. Rich Visingardi of Holly has worked in the field of disabilities since 1983. He has worked for Michigan Protection and Advocacy and is also a former Director of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services. He was director of the Michigan Department Of Community Health Mental Health Administration Division of Community Mental Health. He was also Executive Director of three Michigan local public mental health agencies/systems - Ionia, Oakland and Detroit/Wayne

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.