Imagine being held face down 137 times, sometimes for more than one hour at a time by caregivers, over the course of six months and you had no idea what you'd done to deserve such treatment.
That's what a KELOLAND family says happened to their son with developmental disabilities at Children's Care Hospital and School, which is now LifeScape.
Our KELOLAND News Investigation into LifeScape, an organization that serves people with developmental disabilities, followed three court cases against former LifeScape workers accused of crimes against the people they were supposed to be caring for. In 2016, we also looked into questions surrounding two deaths at LifeScape group homes and discovered LifeScape had been put on a plan of correction by the state.
Now KELOLAND News has uncovered a 3-year yearlong lawsuit against LifeScape, or the Children's Care Hospital and School, which became LifeScape when it merged with South Dakota Achieve in 2014.
Neil and Debra Graff are well-known and active in the Sioux Falls community. Their 23-year-old son Ben was even featured in this KELOLAND News story during the holiday season last year about his special bond with Santa.
"There was just a connection like no other, they looked in each other's eyes and there was something special with them," Debra Graff said.
Ben's life hasn't been easy.
According to a lawsuit filed in 2014 by his parents, Ben Graff has had even more problems after being physically restrained, face down 137 times while living at Children's Care Hospital and School for six months in 2010.
Because of his disabilities, including autism, Ben can get anxious, agitated and aggressive.
CCHS used the prone restraint method to try to control him. Prone restraint, as shown in a YouTube video demonstration, is a particularly dangerous technique in which the person is held face down on the ground.
In many states, prone restraint is banned in state-licensed programs for the disabled because it can lead to serious injury and death by asphyxiation. The technique has been linked to several deaths nationwide.
Ben's parents tell KELOLAND Investigates they had no idea that a dangerous form of physical restraint would be used on their son. While they declined to do an on-camera interview due to the pending lawsuit, they did tell me Ben did not understand why he was being held down and fought back, making things even worse. According to expert testimony filed in the case Ben, suffered shocking psychological and physical injuries.
Dr. Rueben Setliff, who performed surgery on Ben's deviated septum in 2012, found his broken nose was "well out of the norm." Setliff believed it was caused by face down restraint as Ben struggled. A University of Minnesota doctor concurred that "prone restraint contributed to nasal trauma which led to the need for an extensive surgical procedure."
In March of this year, Ben was examined by a Wisconsin psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Marcus who is an expert witness for the Graffs in their suit.
According to Dr. Marcus' Ben suffered from "post-traumatic stress disorder" as a result of being restrained at Children's Care Hospital and School.
Dr. Marcus wrote, "In general there appeared to be a lack of clinical concern over Ben's extensive restraint usage, including whether emotional, behavioral or physical harm may have been resulting.
Neil Graff, Ben's father, tells Kennecke their main objective filing the lawsuit is to stop the use of prone restraint in South Dakota. Many states have banned the use of prone restraints.
Graff told KELOLAND News he wants to, “Make sure in future no young disabled person is subjected to restraints and has to go through the terrible experiences their son did."
According to the court documents, CCHS banned prone restraints after Ben left the facility.
LifeScape has to file its own "expert testimony" in the case by September 30th.
LifeScape Statement: "We have great respect for the legal process and do not want to say anything which might influence or compromise the integrity of the proceedings. Our long established people-focused policies and procedures, guide us each day as we provide compassionate care to the people we are fortunate enough to serve. Because of privacy concerns, we are unable to comment on care provided to specific individuals we support."-- Anne Rieck McFarland/LifeScape Chief Executive Officer
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