A bill introduced by Senator John Scott of Richland County is calling for the The Department Of Disabilities And Special Needs to be added to The Department Of Health And Human Services. Scott and some parents and advocates for the disabled said Wednesday that the department is not operating as it should.
Another bill was also discussed that would require the director of the department be appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate and the State Commission on Disabilities, serve as an advisory board to the director.
Senator Scott said he’s most concerned with the way the department spends money and handles reports of abuse and neglect.
“It’s completely out of control. They’re spending money whatever way they want to spend it. No reports are coming back to the General assembly,” Scott said.
Multiple parents, former and current DDSN employee’s and commissioners spoke to the Senate Subcommittee, sharing their stories of neglected abuse and sexual assault reports at local DDSN’s locations. Many speakers said reports of abuse were mishandled or ignored altogether.
“One of the mothers, her daughter was raped at a workshop and they sent her home on the bus”! said Former Babcock Chairwoman Patricia Harrison.
Harrison said during her time at the center in West Columbia she became aware of multiple instances of abuse but she doesn’t believe the correct action was taken to address them.
Director of the State DDSN Dr. Beverly Buscemi said the department has taken every step to make sure reports of abuse, neglect or insufficient services are addressed. The director said it’s not always up to the DDSN to take the action some parents want to see.
“The example was given, well nothing happened. Well corrective actions were taken. The outside entities that come in and evaluate those services then said yes, the issues as identified were corrected and those services were continued otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed to do those services said Buscemi.”
The director also addressed reports of abuse and how they are handled.
“We make sure the services are there, we make sure whether it be criminal background checks or those type things but if it comes to a very inappropriate event that has occurred, it’s not DDSN’s judgment call to press charges,” she said.
Buscemi said parents and families of those with special needs like the local connection commissioners provide. She said parents would rather talk to a commissioner than directly to a state bureaucrat.
The director also said this form of leadership improves parents abilities to keep up with what’s happening within the department. She said families enjoy regular public meetings and if services are within a larger agency, the department may not receive the same specialized attention.
Funding is also a concern for Buscemi if the departments are combined. She said there could be pressure to put funds that might normally go to the DDSN, toward the general population and health care special interest groups. Buscemi also thinks competition with powerful special interest groups could get worse with budget reductions.
No decisions were made at the subcommittee hearing and senators said they will have another meeting after they review audits of the department.
“I’ll do all I can within this General assembly to bring some change and give some families some comfort. Senator Scott said. “It should not be that way.”