Following an investigation by an independent monitor, a moratorium on admissions, and a period of enhanced oversight triggered by reports of alleged operational violations at facilities statewide, Bellwether Behavioral Health will lose its licenses to operate in New Jersey, according to the state’s Division of Developmental Disabilities (DODD).
The state report on the independent monitor’s findings released Wednesday found 12 of Bellwether’s 14 group homes operating on provisional licenses in New Jersey were deficient in cleanliness. Half smelled of urine, five had rotten or expired food in the refrigerator and one was found to have mixed up residents’ medications. Some homes had as many as 60 deficiencies, the report states.
Bellwether specializes in services for developmentally disabled adults with dual diagnoses, according to its website. Many group home residents and day program attendees have autism or “extremely challenging behavior such as self-injury, aggression, property destruction and problematic sexual behavior.”
Bellwether was known as AdvoServ before 2017. The name change came after reports of patient deaths and restraining devices, which led other states, including Delaware, New York and Florida, to remove residents from company homes. The reports and complaints have been similar in New Jersey.
Two residents at separate West Milford group homes died from choking on food in May 2017. An ex-employee was indicted on charges of criminal neglect following one of the deaths.
West Milford police reports from January 2017 through March 2019 documented Bellwether employees hit residents in 11 separate incidents at four different company-managed facilities in the township. One resident accused of hitting another resident in the head with a chair on March 5, had been grabbed by the neck, pushed up against the wall and cursed at by an employee on Nov. 1, 2018, police said a manager told them. The manager stated, “it appeared as self-defense” and did not want to pursue criminal charges, the police report said.
Another report involved a resident who had been combative, self-injurious and was previously accused of hitting an employee. A second employee was alleged to have slapped him in the back of the head several times on Nov. 11, 2018.The employee was terminated.
Earlier this year, elected officials in West Milford petitioned state officials for action after neighbors of a Bellwether group home near the state border questioned its care and supervision.
The neighbors, who said they had altercations with unsupervised Bellwether residents on their properties, said they fear for their and their families’ safety. The neighbors said they also fear for the safety of the group home residents.
During the oversight period, Bellwether completed some corrective actions, which included filling vacant positions, hiring a cleaning service, offering more food options and attempting to catch up on a backlog of incident reports and investigations. Nonetheless, the DODD will transition homes and day programs operated by Bellwether to nine similar care providers.
Bellwether did not respond to a request to comment.