I-Team: Congresswoman Calls for Abuse Investigation - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Congresswoman Calls for Abuse Investigation

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LAS VEGAS -- A U.S. congresswoman is urging a Nevada state agency to investigate reports of abuse at the Desert Regional Center in Las Vegas.

Parents of adult children with mental disabilities residing at the state-run mental health facility said their children were forced into a fight ring by staff members.

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus wrote a letter to the state's Health and Human Services director, Michael Willden, following an I-Team investigation into the allegations.

"If accurate, these allegations are tragic and unacceptable," Titus wrote. She acknowledged a state investigation that found no wrongdoing, but urged the state to conduct an independent investigation.

"It is critical we get to the bottom of this difficult situation," she wrote. "An independent review is the only way to ensure complete accuracy and accountability."

Following the I-Team's investigation, Desert Regional Center said it is making policy changes in investigating alleged abuse.

The I-Team obtained pictures of severely autistic patients with bloodied faces, chipped teeth and black eyes.

Two patients and their families told the I-Team they were forced to fight each other for the amusement of staff members.

The parents said they often weren't told of their sons' injuries until days later.

State health officials said patients often hit themselves because of their disabilities.

A state internal investigation cleared Desert Regional Center of all allegations.

Because the facility does not allow non-family members to speak with patients, the I-Team went undercover on hospital grounds during a parental visit.

Patient Jacob Bluel named staff members and accused them of staging fights.

"I said, ‘I don't want to do that. I don't want to get hit,'" Bluel said. "And then he said, ‘OK.' Kyle closed the door again. I heard Kyle whisper, ‘Harry, Jakob doesn't want to come out and fight,' and then Harry said, ‘I've got a plan,' and I heard Harry say, ‘I guess you're going to miss your snack then, Jakob.' I thought I was coming out to get a snack because I thought, Harry said it's time for snack. So I came out. Brian went around the corner and gave me a black eye."

The I-Team's investigation also highlighted the lack of an independent ombudsman for families to turn to in cases of alleged abuse at Desert Regional Center.

Titus urged state health officials to hire an ombudsman for that purpose.

In a letter responding to Titus, Willden wrote that in the future, the center will turn to Metro Police's Abuse and Neglect Unit and the Nevada Commission on Mental Health and Developmental Services for independent resources for review.

The I-Team interviewed more families alleging abuse of their loved ones at Desert Regional Center. Their stories will air in the coming weeks.

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