A staff member at the Rainier School in Buckley told KING 5 that a long time client died Thursday during the facility’s annual Summer Festival on the school grounds. The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), which operates the school, confirmed the death, but said due to confidentiality the agency was unable to provide details.
The KING 5 source said the man, who is a senior citizen, choked on a hot dog at the event. Each year the Rainier School puts on an outdoor festival for clients that features food booths, vendors, games, clowns, a picnic, and opportunities for clients to sell homemade items. DSHS said staff immediately jumped in to assist and that paramedics responded to the scene as well.
“DSHS is saddened by the recent death of a resident from the Rainier Residential Habilitation Center in Buckley. During this time of sorrow, we extend our heartfelt condolences to the family, residents, and to our staff at Rainier,” said Kelly Stowe, a DSHS media relations manager in a statement.
The Rainier School is one of four open institutions for people with developmental disabilities in the state of Washington. With approximately 370 residents, Rainier is the biggest facility. The others are the Yakima Valley School in Selah, Fircrest in Shoreline, and Lakeland Village in Medical Lake outside of Spokane.
In a multi-part series “Last of the Institutions,” KING 5 revealed that Washington state lags behind much of the country in its continued institutionalization of citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. Every state on the West Coast has either closed all of their institutions, such as Oregon, or has a concrete plan to do so (California).
Civil rights experts, including the civil division of the U.S. Department of Justice, considers unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities a form of unlawful segregation and discrimination as per Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Rainier School, along with Fircrest and Lakeland Village, has run into trouble in the last few years for failing to follow federally mandated safety and operational policies. Auditors from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found so many violations of state and federal regulations that they took the drastic step of withholding federal funding from the three institutions. In 2015, the federal inspectors froze new admissions at the three facilities for an 11-month period -- until they made the necessary improvements to get back into compliance.
The violations ranged from leaving vulnerable clients strapped to chairs and toilets for long periods of time without staff checking on them, to exploiting clients financially.
DSHS said the agency is reporting the death that occurred Thursday to Residential Care Services, the regulatory wing of the agency responsible for the licensing and oversight of facilities such as the Rainier School, adult family homes and nursing facilities.
“This death will be investigated fully to ensure practices are sufficient to protect resident health and safety and to determine if any changes are required,” said Stowe.
According to Disability Rights Washington, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the rights of people with disabilities, at least one other client choked to death in recent history at the Rainier school. That occurred in 2008.