The issue of abuse and neglect of New Jersey’s vulnerable citizens has been debated significantly over the last two years. One year ago, the legislature passed “Tara’s Law”, which was designed to protect developmentally disabled individuals who resided in foster care settings. The bill was conceived in response to the case of Tara O’Leary, a young woman who weighed less than 50 pounds when she died at the age of 29.

The issue of abuse and neglect also extends to those who are disabled as a result of a psychiatric illness. This phenomenon was illustrated by recent events at the Essex County Psychiatric Hospital; the Director of the hospital was fired as a result of the choking death of a patient. The hospital has also been cited for unwarranted use of restraints. An investigation team also noted that the restraints were used without a doctor’s approval. In addition, the team cited the hospital for the failure to properly sterilize equipment.

The choking incident raised eyebrows when the hospital records suggested that the patient’s death was not remarkable. Furthermore, the hospital staff failed to administer appropriate and timely psychiatric evaluations.

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Currently, the owners of large conglomerates that own and operate many group homes, nursing homes and other facilities have opposed the passage of any legislation that would support investigations by outside agencies. However, recent history has indicated that internal investigations do not work.

Within recent years, it has come to light that an inordinate number of patients have suffered life-long injuries and death as a result of abuse and neglect in hospitals, developmental centers, nursing homes, group homes, supervised apartments and other residential settings. Progress has been slow in creating protections for these individuals and, in some cases, has been non-existent. Unfortunately, political considerations are deemed to be more important than human lives.