Authorities investigating death of man left in hot van

    Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare and local law enforcement are investigating the death of a 20-year old resident of Woods Services in Bucks County.

    Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare and local law enforcement are investigating the death of a 20-year old resident of Woods Services in Bucks County. The young man had severe autism, and was left in a hot van after a group outing on Saturday, when temperatures where in the high nineties. Woods Services operates several residential facilities for people with intellectual disabilities in Langhorne. As Maiken Scott reports from WHYY’s Behavioral Health desk, this incident raises anxiety among other families with disabled children:

    Dr. Susan Epstein works in autism research, and her 20 year old daughter who has autism lives in a residential home. Epstein says hearing about this incident rattled her:

    Epstein: I can hardly speak, I mean, my thought was, it could be me.

    Epstein says when choosing a residential facility, it is important to visit several times to get a sense of how the staff interacts with clients – and if the staff seems tired or overworked:

    Epstein: Because it is so, so important for the staff to be supported adequately to do this really hard job!

    Epstein also networks with other parents to get feedback on safety issues, and has gotten to know staff well at her daughter’s facility. She adds that despite tragic incidents like this one, many residential facilities offer great services. Woods Services, where the young man died, is licensed by the state department of welfare, and has to go through extensive inspections once a year.

    Michael Race from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare says during those inspections, staff preparedness is a major concern:

    Race: there is training required, depending on the type of facility and the supervision, there are criminal abuse and criminal history background checks so it really runs the gamut of what’s required for people to work in one of these facilities.

    Race says department officials will investigate whether procedures specified in the individual’s care plan were followed. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Race says the facility could be sanctioned, or even lose its license.

    State officials are now investigating how the young man could have been forgotten in the van.

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