Melonie Nelson -- a mentally retarded woman with a documented history of eating problems -- choked to death in an understaffed group home where staffers apparently didn't perform any life-saving techniques to prevent her death, according to a confidential investigation by University Legal Services, the federally mandated advocate for disabled residents in the District.
Nelson's death is hardly an isolated incident. More than 90 people with developmental disabilities have died in D.C. group homes during the past three years, with 23 residents dying in the past eight months alone. Citing privacy statutes, the D.C. Attorney General’s Office has blocked the release of their names, so it is impossible to determine how many died from natural causes or from abuse and neglect.
Nelson’s name is the first of the dead residents to be revealed in a $15 million lawsuit filed recently by her mother against the District and group home operator D.C. Health Care, which runs the home on North Capitol Street where Nelson died as well as 12 other group homes.
The D.C. Department of Disability Services supervises more than 2,000 developmentally disabled residents and places them in group homes run by private contractors, but DDS officials refuse to say anything about Nelson's death or explain why no action has been taken against D.C. Health Care to prevent more deaths in its homes.
A Legal Times article published this week investigates Nelson's death, an attempted coverup by D.C. Health Care, and serious problems within the Department of Disability Services that could trigger a court-ordered receivership to remove control of the agency from the D.C. government.