The number of allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation is increasing in day services overseen by the state's disabilities agency, according to the latest quarterly figures released by the department.
Through three quarters of the fiscal year, 67 such allegations have been reported, compared to 58 for all of the 2016 fiscal year and 65 for 2015, according to the data, released Thursday at the monthly meeting of the state Department of Disabilities and Special Needs Commission.
"I think there has been a lot of attention on ANE (abuse, neglect and exploitation) and we've done a lot of training with regards to when in doubt, report," said DDSN Executive Director Beverly Buscemi. "We've done a lot of education of what the system is and what it should look like. So one possible explanation is that training has had an impact of when in doubt, report."
Day services include work programs and job training as well as programs in centers where participants learn social skills and personal care.
In all programs overseen by DDSN, there were 561 such allegations filed from last July 1 through the end of March, according to the figures, which puts it on a pace to have 748 for the year compared to 627 for the prior fiscal year.
DDSN, which cares for thousands of those with intellectual disabilities, autism, and injuries of the brain or spinal cord, provided the figures as part of its quarterly reporting of its system, which includes regional facilities, private providers and county disabilities agencies.
The agency on Thursday announced that it was adding a "risk management coordinator" to review abuse and neglect cases — not only those involving an arrest but also those in which there has been a "significant negative outcome" — in hopes of making suggestions to prevent other such incidents.
The new position was suggested by then-State Inspector General Pat Maley in his review of the agency's ANE reporting system and of the private provider South Carolina Mentor last year. Maley now works for DDSN.
DDSN Commissioner Vicki Thompson of Seneca said the increase in day services allegations concerns her.
"I don't know what that's about," she said. "But I am somewhat encouraged that Pat Maley is going to be involved in that. I think he knows his way around. I don't think we ought to collect meaningless data. We need to spend more time collecting meaningful data."
The agency defines substantiated abuse and neglect as those allegations in which an arrest is made or the allegation is founded by the state Department of Social Services or the state Attorney General's Office. The agency is now requiring staff to follow up with law enforcement in cases of allegations that are investigated to see if an arrest was eventually made or whether DSS eventually substantiated the allegations.
The agency does not investigate such allegations itself but relies on law enforcement or DSS. But DDSN does require providers to conduct a review in such cases for policy and procedural issues, and employees can be disciplined as a result of that review, which is independent of any criminal probe.
Thus far, according to Thursday's data, 91 staff have been terminated, compared to 106 for all of last year. The firings can be related to the abuse allegations but may not be officials said.
Buscemi told the board she wants to stop providing other types of disciplinary data, because she has no confidence they are related to the ANE allegations.
Thompson said the termination data sent to DDSN should be related to abuse, neglect and exploitation allegations because that is a priority safety concern for the agency.
"They need to report that," she said.
Altogether, according to the figures, there were 372 such allegations in community residential settings and 122 in the agency's regional centers.
Seven of the 372 thus far have been substantiated, meaning there has been an arrest in the case, up from four for all of the previous year.
One arrest has been made out of the 67 day services allegations thus far, the same number as last year, and one arrest was made in the regional centers.
The agency also reported Thursday that there have been 1,610 critical incidents thus far reported in the system, on pace to surpass the 1,950 for the previous year.
DDSN defines critical incidents as "an unusual, unfavorable occurrence that is not consistent with routine operations; has harmful or otherwise negative effects involving people with disabilities, employees, or property; and occurs during the direct provision of DDSN service."
The agency earlier this year moved to pare down some types of incidents that have been included as critical incidents, including medical incidents that are routine and predictable.
Statewide, according to DDSN, about 15-20 percent of the agency's service population will have a critical incident of some type during the year.
DDSN officials have noted that many critical incidents don't involve wrongdoing on anyone's part and some reflect duplicate data because a single incident can be reported in multiple categories.
The agency also reported that there have been 75 deaths through the third quarter, compared to 89 deaths for the previous fiscal year.
The State Law Enforcement Division's Vulnerable Adult Unit investigates all deaths of people in DDSN care.