Eliot Shapleigh today will ask the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to investigate 17 deaths at the Lubbock State School in the last 18 months and follow up on a December 2006 report by the U.S. Department of Justice demanding remediation of serious deficiencies in care of 300-plus mentally retarded Texans insitutionalized there.

In a Dec. 11 letter to Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott, Assistant Attorney General Wan J. Kim with the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division details disturbing conditions and unequivocally states that the facility has inadequate nursing care, fails to protect patients from harm and employs inappropriate restraints.

“To date, 17 LSS residents have died since our June 2005 tour. Our review of a number of these deaths raises concerns regarding the quality of care that LSS residents receive,” the letter states. Kim then details an incident in which a patient was found not breathing in 2005, but the staff “panicked” and failed to call for medical assistance for 30 minutes. The DOJ concluded that the LSS staff had falsified documents in connection with the incident.

The DOJ noted that LSS suffered from a shortage of nursing staff which contributed to the facility’s problems.

“The general approach to nursing at LSS is reactive, responding to known or apparent health problems only when they reach acute status, rather than providing timely interventions to prevent or mitigate the occurence of acute problems. Consequently, LSS residents are placed at substantial risk of grave harm,” the letter states.

LSS has 14 nursing positions vacant. Exacerbating that deficiency is “lack of competence among LSS’s staff, ” the letter states. “For instance, staff may have contributed to the spread of serious infections because they were unfamiliar with infection control procedures for caring for individuals with MRSA ( a deadly staph infection).”

The DOJ’s investigators also “confirmed tht residents are being subjected to a wide-spread pattern of harm due to inadequate supervision, neglect, and possible abuse,” citing several examples:

— A resident found with ulcers on her buttocks from being left in urine-soaked diapers.

–A resident with an eating disorder involving consumption of non-edible items was not supervised sufficiently and apparently ingested harmful objects.

–Sixty-six percent of the population has been injured by another resident badly enough to require first aid.

–Administrators had taken no action on a pattern of unexplained bruising and injuries to patients occuring on a particular staff person’s shift.

Kim’s letter ends with a litany of remediation steps the state must undertake or face litigtion for failing to protect the rights of institutionalized persons.

The entire report is posted on the Department of Justice’s website.

“I am going to raise this issue today,” Shapleigh told me. Noting that budget cuts had severely hurt state schools staffing abilities, Shapliegh blamed the Grover Norquist philosophy of government for creating unacceptable conditions at the state school. “People are being hurt” by the Legislature’s reluctance to appropriate adequate funding for health and humans services needs, he said.

For the last month, during new disturbing revelations from the TYC sex scandal/ cover-up, John Whitmire has been wringing his hands: “What worries me is what we don’t know about.” Apparently, there’s more bad news awaiting lawmakers, not just at TYC, but at the state’s facilities for the mentally disabled.