OCA not satisfied with St. Mary’s Home for Children’s response to scathing report

Updated at 3:50 p.m. on March 18

PROVIDENCE – Months after details of the R.I. Office of the Child Advocate’s scathing report on St. Mary’s Home for Children were released, the residential treatment center has issued a response.

In January, the Providence Journal published details from a Dec. 19 report by Rhode Island’s Office of the Child Advocate looking into “significant safety concerns and abusive living conditions” at St. Mary’s.

On March 4, St. Mary’s published a 164-page report on its website outlining how it has implemented recommended changes and clarifying some comments made in the initial investigative report.

“The OCA’s investigative report contains truths that St. Mary’s acknowledges and has taken action on, as well as comments that require clarification,” Charles A. Montorio-Archer, St. Mary’s interim CEO, said in a statement. “In short, every recommendation from the OCA and DCYF [R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families] has been acted upon.”

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Among the initiatives St. Mary’s says it has implemented include improvements to staff recruitment and training, collaborating with new partners and implementing security measures throughout its campus.

St. Mary’s also sought to clarify several statements made in the initial investigative report, including those related to comments made by staff about the facilities, whether there were “medication errors” and patient complaints.

Additionally, St. Mary’s leaders made some suggestions for how OCA and the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families can better support the facility. These included continuing monthly meetings with DCYF, OCA, Disability Rights of Rhode Island and the North Providence Police and Fire departments, an educational campaign on trauma-informed services provided through DCYF, state departments and the provider community, and annual employee cost-of-living adjustments for direct support staff.

“Good is still happening at St. Mary’s and we look forward to continued guidance from DCYF and the OCA as we create the safest environment for both the children and our staff,” Montorio-Archer said.

However, OCA is still not satisfied with St. Mary’s response.

“In our meetings prior to the release of this report, it was made clear that the OCA expected to receive a concrete and comprehensive corrective action plan outlining the steps that will be taken in response to findings issued by this office,” Katelyn Medeiros, OCA acting child advocate, wrote in a letter addressed to Montorio-Archer on March 14. “Instead we received a response that is wholly inadequate given the nature of the allegations and gravity of the findings. The response lacks accountability for what transpired and offers minimal solutions for substantive, impactful change.”

Medeiros said that St. Mary’s response makes it difficult to assess whether there have been real changes made to help children. Medeiros added that St. Mary’s response cited existing policies and practices for many of the recommendations. The investigation showed these policies and practices weren’t followed, so citing them as solutions doesn’t show real change, she said.

Additionally, Medeiros said some people who were cited as clarifying parts of the report were the same people identified in the OCA’s investigation as being in charge while many of the facility’s failures took place.

“It is important that St. Mary’s response not be used as an opportunity to rewrite history or skew objective findings through a subjective lens,” Medeiros said. “Additionally, the response minimizes the profound concerns raised and deflects attention away from those who this should truly be about, the children.”

Medeiros says the OCA expects St. Mary’s will provide a comprehensive plan for corrective action and a productive conversation on behalf of the children.

Along with St. Mary’s, OCA recommended that DCYF make several changes. Medeiros said the OCA has received a comprehensive action plan from DCYF and the two agencies have met and discussed the plan and are confident that the changes will lead to “vital systemic change.”

Then on March 15, Montorio-Archer sent a letter to Medeiros responding to the OCA’s concerns and stating the actions of St. Mary’s actions so far are only the beginning.

“It may be easy for an outsider to simply dismiss these efforts as ‘inadequate,’ but doing so denies the true effort of a group of dedicated individuals tirelessly working together in such a short time to begin to create true institutional change,” Montorio-Archer said. “I am proud of that effort and sincerely grateful to the individuals and organizations who have stood by and supported St. Mary’s in this process.”

Montorio-Archer also backed the clarifications St. Mary’s made about the OCA’s initial investigative report and said the staff is open to meeting and discussing how to continue improving the residential facility.

“We agree that our combined focus should be on progress and improvement for the lives and development of the children in our care,” Montorio-Archer said.

(UPDATE: Adds St. Mary’s response to the OCA letter in 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th paragraphs.)

Katie Castellani is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at Castellani@PBN.com