In the wake of a critical federal audit last summer, lawmakers have introduced two bills that aim to address deficiencies in Maine’s system for caring for people with developmental disabilities.

The U.S. Office of Inspector General report released in August found that Maine failed to investigate 133 deaths of intellectually disabled people who had Medicaid insurance from January 2013 through June 2015.

In addition, the auditors found that community-based providers reported only 66 percent of the 2,243 critical incidents during that period that required emergency room treatment of adults with intellectual disabilities.

One of the bills, sponsored by state Rep. Jennifer Parker, D-South Berwick, would ensure that Maine Department of Health and Human Services records leading up to the death of a person with intellectual disabilities would be made available to an independent oversight board. The bill also would require that the Maine Developmental Services Oversight & Advisory Board ensure the confidentiality of the patients.

Parker said the law ensures that the board “has the tools to do its job.”

“It’s a simple, logical solution,” she said.

Cullen Ryan, who serves on the oversight board and has an adult son with disabilities, said the board has “had trouble getting the information that we need,” and the bills would help address those shortcomings.

The six-person board – appointed by Gov. Paul LePage – reviews complaints by families.

Another bill would re-establish the Office of Advocacy, which was eliminated in 2011 shortly after LePage took office, as part of a consolidation of DHHS operations. The Office of Advocacy would investigate complaints from people who had family members with developmental disabilities who were receiving state services.

DHHS spokeswoman Emily Spencer said the agency was reviewing the bills and had not yet taken a position.

Adults with severe intellectual disabilities, autism or those who have suffered a brain injury are entitled to Medicaid services, usually living in group homes operated by nonprofits. Some may receive in-home services.

The federal audit was part of a series of reviews in several states that focused on the reporting and monitoring of deaths and abuse of residents with intellectual disabilities being cared for by community-based providers.

In August, the Portland Press Herald highlighted the stories of many families who said they were receiving substandard care from DHHS for adult family members with intellectual disabilities.

DHHS did respond in October with a plan for improvements, including a system to forward all reports of abuse and neglect to a district attorney’s office, review Medicaid emergency room visits and compare them to reports from providers to ensure cases are not going unreported, and require the nonprofits providing services to conduct internal reviews of the reports.

Rep. Dale Denno, D-Cumberland Center and the sponsor of the Office of Advocacy bill, said the tepid response from the administration convinced him that a strong response by lawmakers was needed.

“I was unpleasantly surprised by any lack of response at all,” Denno said. “The Legislature needed to do something more than just hope for the best. I couldn’t let it go. We can’t not do anything.”

The federal report concluded that the lack of oversight of group homes led to a chasm between the 15,897 cases of potential abuse or neglect reported by providers and the 767, or 5 percent, that were accepted for investigation by the state.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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Twitter: @joelawlorph