Horrors -Polk & White Haven

Horrors -Polk & White Haven

State human service officials put the annual average cost of care per resident at Polk and White Haven at $409,794 and $434,821 in 2019.

The average cost to serve an individual in the Consolidated Waiver is $143,154 according to DHS.

Planned closure of Polk Center marks the end of an era and the start of a battle

“Having an intellectual disability does not mean a person is incapable of making decisions, contributing to their community, or exploring lifelong learning opportunities. Community-based settings honor the inherent value of every person and empower individuals to choose the direction of their own lives,” Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said in a statement announcing the closure.

Bob Nelkin, then a staff member at the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (now ACHIEVA), was part of a group of parents and other advocates who would drive around the state, making unannounced visits to institutions. They would insist on being allowed to see the director and having access to the facility.

During one 1973 visit to a Polk cottage, he wrote that it “has to be the worst in our State school and hospital systems. It is a hell hole, a zoo, a pig sty.”

“Residents were tied to their benches,” he wrote. “The stench (a combination of urine, feces, and body odor) was unbelievable. There were no attendants actively engaged in a program for these residents. The noise level and confusion were overwhelming.”

“We kept seeing things that were totally outrageous, that offended us as human beings,” Mr. Nelkin recalled.

Perhaps most famously, in 1973, the group saw people in cages at Polk — which led to the superintendent’s firing, a firestorm of controversy and, ultimately, changes.

But patient deaths, staffing concerns, a Health Department report that showed shocking conditions — such as instances of patients with broken bones being left untreated and patients who were given stitches or underwent stapling procedures without anesthetic — continued to generate controversy in the 1980s and 1990s.

Even amid all that, however, a number of family members of Polk residents said they were happy with the care their loved ones received there.

Polk State Center has a thoroughly documented history of neglect and human rights abuses. In the 1970s, parents filed complaints against the school for abuse of residents, including the use of beatings and wooden cages as punishment. In the 1990s, the state of Pennsylvania sued nearly the entire staff of doctors at Polk for neglect and abuse that resulted in the death of 4 residents. As with all institutions, the violence inflicted upon the people being held at Polk continues to persist. In January of 2019, a woman was seriously injured at Polk, and an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the injury, including a possible cover-up, is ongoing.

Ultimately, however, the problems with are not in individual cases of abuse or neglect, but in the very structure of institutions themselves.

  • Investigations began in 1997 after the deaths of the three patients. and led to six doctors being charged with assault and neglect at Polk Center in 1999. Among other things, the four doctors and Dr. Miranda are accused of using sutures and surgical staples to close wounds without giving the patients anesthesia. One defendant, Dr. Makkar, said hospital and state officials were aware that doctors at Polk had commonly used surgical staples without anesthesia if an injury needed immediate treatment.  Investigations began in 1997 after the deaths of the three patients. There was no policy directing doctors to treat wounds without anesthesia. Other ill patients were not examined in a timely manner
  • May of 2017 Polk Center Staff Member Accused of Attempting to Strangle Resident A Franklin man who works at Polk State Center is accused of trying to strangle a resident at the facility last month. According to a report issued Friday by Franklin-based State Police, a known but unidentified 39-year-old man used a shirt to assault a 25-year-old female resident of the Center.  Last year, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill that included non-fatal strangulation as a form of assault. Prior to the signing of this bill, there was no criminal statute specifically addressing the act of intentionally impeding or interfering with a person’s breathing or circulation.
  • Police Investigating Sexual Assault at Polk Center 
    According to Franklin-based State Police, a known, 34-year-old Polk woman – who is a resident of Polk Center – reported that she was sexually assaulted around 5:00 p.m. on February 23 by a known, 41-year-old old Franklin man who is a worker at Polk Center. February 24, 2018
  • January of 2019  New Information Surfaces on Possible Assault of Quadriplegic Woman at Polk Center.   According to police, the 70-year-old female patient suffered previously unreported injuries consisting of fractured bones and a lacerated liver. The doctor indicated the victim’s injuries were not documented by staff members at Polk Center. According to Trooper Haun, although the incident is being investigated as an assault, the doctor noted the victim’s injuries are consistent with a fall. “At this point, it is unclear whether this was a physical assault or an accident potentially being covered up by employees at Polk,” Trooper Haun said.

In Indiana in 2019

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