After critical report, state works to tackle ongoing issues at Lakeview rehabilitation center

New Hampshire's health commissioner said Tuesday he bears responsibility for failures of oversight at a facility that cares for people with brain injuries.

Lakeview Neuro-Rehabilitation Center, in Effingham, has been the subject of scrutiny from the state since the Disability Rights Center issued complaints last fall detailing neglect and abuse there. Gov. Maggie Hassan ordered an outside investigation into the state Department of Health and Human Service's oversight and licensing of Lakeview.

The consultant who conducted the probe said in a report released Monday that a lack of resources, staffing and appropriate reporting procedures means the state failed to respond to problems for several years.

"There clearly were a series of challenges and problems that occurred that enabled this type of thing to happen," DHHS Commissioner Nick Toumpas said. "We've been working on this for some time. But ultimately the responsibility rests with me as the department head to make sure that what happened does not happen again and we try to correct that going forward."

The Disability Rights Center is calling for the courts to appoint an outside receiver to operate Lakeview until the state can transition the residents to community-based care programs and shut down Lakeview.

"The state of New Hampshire should not allow this situation to continue," said Karen Rosenberg, senior staff attorney at the Disability Rights Center. "While it may take some time to develop alternative treatment programs for individuals currently housed at Lakeview, the Department of Health and Human services should not delay necessary activities to ensure the health, safety and well-being of Lakeview's residents."

But the state has no immediate plans to close Lakeview, Toumpas said.

"We need to put our focus on addressing the types of issues that we have there right now," he said. "If we can't get those resolved then we need to find alternatives for the people both now and in the future."

In the short-term, the state's actions include daily monitoring at Lakeview to make sure it's complying with its own corrective action plan, continuing the freeze on new admissions, notifying other states with residents at Lakeview about the issues and creating an advisory group that includes guardians of residents, Toumpas said.

Some of the report's other recommendations, such as restructuring the state's licensing unit and adopting new rules, will take longer.

Monday's report said Lakeview's own corrective action plan has not been sufficient.

"We have taken some concrete steps but I think one of the things we learned from the review was that those steps have not necessarily had the results that we hoped they would have," Hassan said in an interview Tuesday.

Hassan said the report shows New Hampshire must provide better access to community-based care for people now at Lakeview and that the rehab center should be a short-term option.

Hassan said her office is working to help the health department hire more people in the licensing unit despite a statewide hiring freeze. She said the state is taking the issues at Lakeview seriously and urged lawmakers to appropriately fund services for the state's vulnerable populations.

"Now that we're not in an economic crisis it's really important for us to come together and find a way to adequately fund our Department of Health and Human Services," she said.