Conditions at Blossom Philadelphia violate landmark Pennhurst order

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Blossom Philadelphia’s group homes have 18 residents who were at Pennhurst State School & Hospital before it closed 30 years ago. Here, state officials tour the facility in 1965, when the facility housed 3,182 people.

Blossom Philadelphia’s population of 89 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities includes 18 former residents of Chester County’s Pennhurst State School and Hospital, which was closed 30 years ago this month after more than a decade of legal battles.

Those 18 former Pennhurst residents, living in one of Blossom’s small-group homes, are protected by a 1985 consent decree that was supposed to guarantee them access forever to medical care, freedom from abuse and neglect, and good living conditions in a community.

But last month, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services revoked Blossom’s license because of long-running deficiencies and failure to report incidents as required by law. Violations included the use of untrained staff as well as the failure to give residents their medications and get residents to medical appointments.

“Right now, the 18 people have deviated from the requirements in, not all, but in some instances, of the settlement, yes. There’s nobody that’s going to tell you otherwise,” said Tim Gruesel, who was hired in 1994 to monitor conditions of Philadelphia residents who had been at Pennhurst after the city was found to be in contempt of earlier court orders.

Blossom’s contract is with the state and those officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

At the request of the city and DHS’s Office of Developmental Programs, Gruesel early last month put Blossom’s clients who are part of the Pennhurst class-action settlement on an enhanced-monitoring schedule.

Gruesel said he had found some problems with access to medical care and therapy, as well as staffing deficiencies and lack of access to the community.

“There are some people who are doing well despite their issues, and that’s because they themselves are doing pretty well, and others who are not doing as well because of the failures of the agency and some aspects of their care and treatment,” he said.

Family members of the general population at Blossom said conditions at Blossom have worsened in recent in weeks. For the 18 individuals he is watching, Gruesel said, he had not seen conditions deteriorate, but they “are not getting substantially better.”

It is not clear what is done with the information he gathers.

Gruesel said he gives his reports to city and state officials, including the state’s Pennhurst Advocacy Unit, and to organizations that are supposed to coordinate services for the individuals. Gruesel described the city as his client.

The information also goes to the former Pennhurst residents and their families. “It’s an aging population, so we do not have a lot of families that are involved at this point,” Gruesel said.

Gruesel said he did not know if attorneys would get involved to enforce the 1985 consent decree.

David Ferleger, a Jenkintown lawyer who brought the original class-action lawsuit on Pennhurst in 1974, knew nothing of the problems at Blossom until told about them by a reporter on Wednesday.

“If necessary — it sounds like it may already be necessary — we may have to go back to federal court to be sure that their rights are protected,” Ferleger said. He could not be reached for further comment Friday.

An official at the nonprofit Public Interest Law Center, which represented the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens and other organizations in the class-action lawsuit, also said Wednesday he was not aware of the situation at Blossom.

Once the situation is brought to the law center’s attention, “we will take a careful look at it, because the premise of the consent decree was that the city and state agencies would in fact be careful and attentive in their duties,” said Michael Churchill, who is of counsel at the law center.