Removal from Denton State School Becomes a Hollow Victory

Getting her son out of state care was only the beginning of one mother's troubles

The boy is home now. He sits in a wheelchair in the corner of his family's home in Richardson. His hands are limp, his head rolls from side to side, and he has trouble making eye contact. His name is Haseeb Chishty and he is 34 years old.

For the past seven years, Haseeb has been one of 630 residents at Denton State School, the largest institution in Texas for the mentally retarded. His mother has described the school as a place where residents are regularly abused and neglected, and Haseeb, who was severely beaten by a caregiver at the school in 2002, has become a rallying cry for advocates who want state schools shut down.

For the past four years, Haseeb's mother, Farhat Chishty, has been engaged in a public battle with the state to get her son out of the state's care ('The Caretaker," July 30, 2008). In September she was handed a small victory when the state agreed to send Haseeb home and to help pay for his care. In spite of this, Farhat says things are worse than ever. The state has only provided one health care worker to assist with Haseeb, she says, meaning she often has to stay up through the night to help change his diapers and his feeding tube. What's worse, she says the for-profit health care provider the state has hired to assist her sometimes fails at the last minute to provide a nursing aide, forcing Chishty to scramble to find family members who can help her with Haseeb. Often, she has to care for him alone.

Haseeb Chishty and his mother in his room at Denton State School this summer. Haseeb came home in September.
MARK GRAHAM
Haseeb Chishty and his mother in his room at Denton State School this summer. Haseeb came home in September.

"I feel like I've jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire," she says on a recent Thursday night at her Richardson home. "I am losing faith in the state ever being able to correct the wrong it committed against me."

Haseeb has been profoundly mentally retarded since early childhood, but for most of his life he could sign and communicate with his mother and other family members in broken English and Urdu. Then, in September 2002, after living at Denton State School for a month, a nurse's aide found him in bed, soaking in his own blood and urine. For six months, as Haseeb lay in intensive care with massive internal injuries, no one could explain what happened. Despite his mother's insistence that she had seen a bruise in the shape of a footprint near her son's groin, indicating he had been assaulted, she says no one at the school paid attention to her claims.

Then, two and a half years later, a former caregiver admitted he had abused Haseeb in a drug-induced rage, punching and kicking him more than a dozen times. In a videotaped confession he said his supervisors had known about the abuse and helped him cover it up.

It didn't take long for opponents of the state school to pick up on the story and embrace it as a prime example of all that was wrong with the way Texas cares for its most vulnerable population. While the Department of Aging and Disability Services insisted that Haseeb's case represented an isolated incident, (DADS spokesperson Cecilia Fedorov declined to comment for this story), their own records painted a different picture. In April, the Associated Press reported that in the last three years, more than 800 state school employees had been fired for causing serious injuries to residents. The Dallas Observer's own review of more than 800 pages of disciplinary records covering 11 state schools over the last five years also revealed a widespread pattern of abuse and neglect throughout the system, including repeated incidents of staffers choking, punching and beating clients.

In September 2004, Farhat filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of her son against the state, seeking monetary damages that would cover Haseeb's in-home care for the rest of his life.

The Denton State School maintained that the injuries were caused by a seatbelt injury, which occurred during Haseeb's transportation to the school. The lawsuit was dismissed on grounds of sovereign immunity, which protects the state from civil suits. After its dismissal, Farhat Chishty and Advocacy Inc., an Austin-based group that fights for the rights of Texans with disabilities, began negotiating with the state to reach an agreement on Haseeb's future. At first, Chishty says, she insisted that he obtain the same care he had been receiving at the school. After all, she maintained, it was the state's fault he was a paraplegic who couldn't bathe or eat or comb his hair without help.

Eventually, Chishty says, she agreed to an arrangement that was less than ideal: The state would provide one caregiver who would work 16 hours a day at her house. It would be up to the Chishty family to decide when and how those 16 hours were used. The state, Chishty maintains, also agreed to provide a mechanical lift that would assist Haseeb with getting into bed and into cars, and they would pay for the same therapy he was receiving at Denton State School.

But little has worked out according to plan, Chishty says. The state, for example, didn't order the mechanical lift until the day before Haseeb was leaving the school, Chishty says. The lift still hasn't arrived. Instead, she says, the state has suggested she buy a manual lift through Medicaid.

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