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in the early 1970s. In contrast, Texas clung to the institutional model prior to the Supreme Court ruling. In the nine years since Olmstead mandated that Texas change its ways, the state has moved nearly 1,000 patients from state institutions to community group homes. Advocates for the mentally disabled say more, if not all, state school patients should be moved out of dehumanizing institutions and into community group homes, where residents can come and go as they please, interact with neighbors, even hold jobs. Groups such as Advocacy Inc. and the ARC of Texaswhich have a long history of advocating for improved conditions for the mentally disabledwant the state school system closed entirely or drastically contracted. Nearly everyone agrees that high-functioning patients capable of some measure of independent living are better off in a group home. But what about the most impairedthose who can’t rise from a gurney? Parent groups say that group homes are simply unable to care for the severely disabled. Amy Mizcles, with the ARC of Texas, says that if a program is properly designed, “anyone can live in the community.” In fact, the Supreme Court makes it their right. She hopes the recent controversy surrounding state schools will prod the Legislature to begin closing them. Many parents of state school residents vehemently oppose closure. They believe the facilities keep their loved ones alive. And they are deeply distrustful of privately run group homes. After all, the primary mission of government-run institutions is to care for residents. For-profit companies can own group homes. “Your group home is only as good as the compassion of the people that are working there:’ Yeaman says. At Austin State School, she saw elderly residents roaming the campus. “They were fine. If they want to stay there, let them stay there. The ones who need to get out, get them out.” If severely impaired patients are moved to a group home, Yeaman wonders, “How much difference is there going to be in their life? Just because they get [patients] out and expose them to typical peoplethat may educate typical people, but what does it do for that person with the disability? I’m not for closing state schools. I don’t think they’re for everybody. But I think they serve a purpose. For Yeaman, the state schools, like an entrenched bureaucracy, can perform well if you push the system. Lathom received good treatment, in part, because of Karen’s surprise visits. “I could walk in at any time, and I did,” she says. “They never know when you’re going to drop in.” Yet she never met the parents or relatives of any of the other boys in Lathom’s dorm. Some parents choose to pretend their troubled child doesn’t exist. For these residents, the state school is their family now. The Austin State School sprawls across 95 acres in the middle of a tony West Austin neighborhood. The facility is mostly one-story buildings splayed around green fields adorned with trees. The 436 residents live in large wardstwo and three beds to a roombut there are also more intimate cottages for a dozen residents. You “I’m not for closing state schools. I don’t think they’re for everybody. But I think they serve a purpose.” parent Karen Yeaman enter down a short driveway that leads to the 19th-century brick administration building. Guiding a tour on a November morning, Austin State School Superintendent Ross Robinson and Cecilia Fedorov, the agency spokesperson, calmly brushed aside queries. Asked if he had adequate staff, Robinson said, “We’re able to meet people’s needs.” Fedorov pointed out that state schools were engaging in an aggressive hiring push. Asked about reports of abuse, Fedorov said the agency has tough abuse-reporting requirements and all allegations are investigated thoroughly. The message: The reports of crisis in state schools are exaggerated. In factas internal e-mails subsequently obtained by the Observer revealedRobinson and his staff were scrambling at the time to rectify numerous problems at the facility. A few weeks earlier, in mid-October 2007, state inspectors had subjected the facility to an annual review. Austin State School didn’t fare well. The inspectors’ report, which runs more than 200 pages, tags the facility with 40 separate deficiencies of varying degree, the most severe of which was a resident deemed in “immediate jeopardy” on October 25. She had tried to commit suicide eight times in just a few months, despite one-on-one supervision, which means a staffer is supposed to remain within arm’s length at all times. There clearly were lapses, because the resident had managed to swallow nail polish remover, broken glass, a paper clip, and a staple, and to drink an entire bottle of perfume, according to the inspection report. Given her severe mental illness, her presence at Austin State School shows just how much facilities designed to treat mental retardation are dealing with the mentally ill. Administrators quickly provided more supervision for their suicidal resident, and the immediate jeopardy designation was removed the next day. Even so, inspectors concluded the facility was troubled enough to warrant termination of its fundingif problems weren’t rectifiedin 90 days. Many of the facility’s flaws, according to the report, arise from two issues: too few employees and paltry salaries. A shortage among one particular type of employee was especially troubling to inspectors. They found the facility had too few Qualified Mental Retardation Professionals. These are pseudo case managers who are supposed to ensure that patients are making progress in their treatment. They told inspectors that they were working 50 to 60 cases at a time in multiple dormsa caseload double recommended levels. One MAY 2, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11