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Documentary Report: Problems Facing Texas State-Supported Living Centers

David Martin Davies
TPR News
Residents outside a housing unit of the San Antonio State Supported Living Center.

Texas Matters: This week we explore the current state of Texas state-supported living centers (SSLC), which house people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. How are these centers doing five years after the U.S. Department of Justice discovered inadequate conditions and care? The story of Sean Yates, who escaped from the Corpus Christi SSLC and was later found dead. What is the future of SSLCs in Texas?

Part 1: Five years later, Texas state-supported living centers are not meeting standards

Five years ago the state of Texas settled a lawsuit with the Department of Justice over the way the state housed and treated some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

The DOJ unearthed conditions at Texas state-supported living centers where mentally disabled residents were found to be neglected, beaten, sexually assaulted and even killed by staff members.

Some are calling for the centers to be finally shut down, but others say that despite their flaws, the centers are needed.

Texas runs 13 living centers -- more than any other state.

Part 2: Death of Sean Yates raises questions of neglect at Texas state-supported living centers

Credit Yates family photo
Sean Yates wearing his favorite "George Strait" cowboy hat.

As questions are raised about the substandard quality of medical care that the residents receive at the centers, a recent tragedy in Corpus Christi exposes the issue of neglect.

To hear Ashley Yates talk about her brother Sean – he certainly sounded like one of a kind.

“We’d all be asleep and he’d call 911 and say officers were down and SWAT team members were down and everyone in his family had been killed and shot. And we’d get woke up with helicopters and SWAT teams at our doors," Yates said. "And it was Sean under the bed playing on the phone. And he’d get hold of the airplane pilot people, the air controller (whatever it’s called) and they’d believed him that he was in a plane and he was lost or his plane was down and he had search crews out looking for a plane. And Sean is under his bed making these calls. He was a character. Half the stuff he did I don’t know how he did it or why he did it."

Sean was diagnosed with severe Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of Autism, and attention deficit disorder. Part of his behavioral issues was his tendency to run away. Despite her family’s best efforts to keep Sean secure in their Ore City home in East Texas, Ashley said it was no use. Her brother was an escape artist.

Part 3: Push to close Texas state-supported living centers

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission recently released a report that was highly critical of Texas state-supported living centers. The system of institutions has a proven track record of providing substandard care and the report says they cost too much money to maintain.

It’s Sunday afternoon at Clay Boatwright’s home in Plano. He has a 17 year old daughter – she’s in her room - and two twin 14 year old girls – Mia is out by the pool with her mother and Page is upstairs watching a DVD of Frozen. It’s a typical Sunday afternoon – but the twins are not typical. Boatwright explained that they have severe intellectual disabilities and autism.

“A lot of people don’t know what that means – what does 'severe' mean? Even though they are 14 they are non-verbal," Boatwright said. "They still need a lot of help going to the bathroom, bathing, things of that nature. And they are prone to some really – I use the word 'apocalyptic' level meltdowns and you never know when that’s going to occur."

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi