Longmont family wants accountability after disabled daughter assaulted during program field trip

LONGMONT, Colo. -- There are few things the Valdez family cares more about than the well-being of one of their own.

“As siblings, we’re all very protective of her,” said April Garcia, talking about her sister Stephanie Valdez. “We grew up kind of fast, we had to learn how to control seizures and what to do with her. How to bathe her and feed her.”

Stephanie has epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. She has needed a wheelchair and has been non-verbal her whole life. To help their mother take care of their 40-year-old sister, the siblings found a program to help get Stephanie out in the community. They found Out & About, which helps adults with disabilities get out into the community. The family had a good experience at work until Stephanie came home one day visibly distressed.

“She came home with a bunch of scratches on her face and her hair being pulled out,” Garcia said.

A couple of weeks later, the family got a message that another client had attacked Stephanie.

“She had several bruises on her knees, on her arms, and her nose was swollen and she had a black eye,” Garcia said.

After taking Stephanie to the hospital, the family found she had a broken arm as well.

“It was not only upsetting, but it hurt because she can’t defend herself. And then we’re at a loss of: what can we do? How can we help her?" Garcia said.

In an incident write-up obtained by the FOX31 Problem Solvers, Out & About describes what happened by saying, “The alleged perpetrator (Participant A) walked up to Stephanie after arriving to the activity and shouted loudly in her face. After about five minutes participant A got up and grabbed Stephanie’s right arm, distal to the shoulder, on her bicep.”

About 30 to 40 minutes after the first incident, the report says it happened again.

“We do not blame the other client because the client is disabled as well,” Garcia said. “For us, it’s the company itself. They need to be responsible. They’re the ones who get the clients, they're the ones who are assuring the families that your child is safe with them, that they’re OK to go out, that they will be there, that they will protect them.”

Imagine! Colorado runs Out & About, and a representative told the Problem Solvers they couldn’t comment on the story because of privacy laws.

Here are some tips on how to choose an assisted living facility from the Better Business Bureau:

  • Visit several facilities and talk to the staff and residents. Ask yourself some questions: Does the atmosphere seem pleasant? Does there seem to be enough staff available? Do residents seem happy and engaged? Do residents appear to be clean and groomed?
  • Know what the daily or monthly rates are and ask what services are included in this fee. There may be other services available for an extra charge.
  • Find out if the state requires the facility to be licensed. Ask to see the facility's most recent inspection report.
  • If applicable, find out if the facility accepts Medicare and Medicaid. Ask if it's Medicaid certified.
  • Find out what services the facility provides and if the services are provided by the facility's staff or if arrangements are made with other agencies.
  • What choices of accommodations are available? Can you get a private room? Do they have rooms with kitchen facilities? Is the bathroom private or shared? Are there private areas other than the bedroom for visits? Is there space for personal belongings?
  • Check the facility for safety features including well-lit stairs and halls, handrails in the bathrooms, well-marked exits and a way to call for help if needed.
  • Find out if you or your family will be involved in the care planning process. Be sure you know what will happen if you should need assistance later on. Will you have to move, or will the facility be able to provide the care you need?
  • Be sure to check the facility out with your local Better Business Bureau.

Some more Colorado-specific advice is that consumers can visit the Colorado Department of Pubic Health and Environment's website to check the results of an assisted living facility's inspection.

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