State Scrambles For Solutions As Major Disability Services Provider Plans Exit
PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon company is shutting down its group homes and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities following years of state and federal scrutiny for abuse and neglect of the people in its care, state officials said this month.
Mentor Oregon’s departure will be the largest of its kind in memory, advocates and a top state official said, and will likely prove challenging for Oregon’s already-strained disability services system.
The closure will leave about 1,300 people in need of new service providers by Aug. 31. Only 25 of those people live in group homes and may need to move if the state is unable to cut deals to maintain operations.
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“We’re not too focused on ‘why,’ at this point,” Lilia Teninty, director of Oregon Developmental Disability Services, said of Mentor’s abrupt decision to leave. Instead, she said, the state is “focused on continuity” for those currently getting services through Mentor.
Most worrisome for the state is the case management side of Mentor Oregon’s business. The company helps adult Oregonians with intellectual and developmental disabilities connect with personal workers who come to their home or take them into the community for social events.
Most other companies serve up to 700 people, on the larger side, Teninty said, putting Mentor into a league of its own.
It’s unclear if other case management companies in Oregon have the capacity to take on Mentor’s workload. Even if they do, more than a thousand people with disabilities could lose case managers altogether or have to adapt to new ones, creating new emotional and logistical strains for people with developmental disabilities.
Teninty said she is “very confident the transition will happen,” at least in part through new or expanded contracts. “We have processes in place,” Teninty said.
Oregon officials are also working to identify other companies to take over operations for Mentor so the group home residents — some of whom have lived in the same place for years — don’t have to move.
Mentor Oregon, which is a local branch of The Mentor Network, said it is leaving due to outside factors, including insufficient staff to provide the best possible care. Nationally, The Mentor Network served nearly 13,000 people in residential settings, according to the company’s 2018 public filings.
“Our priority remains the wellbeing of the people we care for,” spokeswoman Teresa Prego said in a written statement. “We will work tirelessly to help them transition out of our care and have access to support to meet their individual needs.”
It’s unclear what, if anything, Mentor Oregon’s departure has to do with recent official and public scrutiny.
The U.S. Senate Finance Committee investigated the company’s operations in Iowa and Oregon, publishing its findings in December. The investigation was triggered in part by a 2019 article in The Oregonian/OregonLive that described neglect at a Mentor home in Curry County that was so severe, staff told abuse investigators that the home smelled of “rotting flesh,” according to official records.
According to the finance committee report, Mentor Oregon continued to provide substandard care even into the final weeks of the investigation, leading to yet another group home closure.
More than 30,000 Oregonians with intellectual and developmental disabilities get some support from the Oregon Developmental Disability Services, which contracts with providers such as Mentor Oregon. About 3,200 people live in roughly 980 group homes spread across the state, with the largest provider managing 45 homes.
Mentor Oregon’s footprint has diminished in recent years, with 21 homes shutting down since 2018 due to state regulatory actions. Only nine homes, with 25 residents, remain in the company’s portfolio.
Five of Mentor’s homes are in Klamath County, a southern Oregon jurisdiction with only six group homes total for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The director of the local developmental disabilities agency said he is talking to other providers about taking over for the company and hopes the process will be so seamless residents hardly notice.
“This is home for them,” Myles Maxey said of the 15 Klamath County residents in Mentor’s care.
Despite Mentor’s past history, Maxey said he was disappointed the company is leaving the state. Care at the company’s group homes had improved since 2019, he said.
Oregon’s top advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who live in group homes, Toni Larson, said Mentor’s departure is welcome under the current conditions.
“If they can’t provide that level of service, then that’s a good decision,” said Larson, Oregon’s Residential Facilities ombudsman.
Larson said she and her staff will be actively monitoring the process, including by helping ensure residents know they have a right to choose where they live and that the place they are offered matches their needs.
“I think it’s ambitious with that many people,” Larson said of the possibility that 25 people will soon need new homes.
Katie Rose, executive director of a trade association for disability case management companies, said Mentor’s sudden departure could cause substantial hardship for many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“It’s a lot of change for a lot of people in a fairly short amount of time,” Rose said.
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