Helemano dispute needs more oversight
Conflict has embroiled two organizations that provide services and support for developmentally disabled adults.
Independent review of two organizations that have been locked in a complicated dispute for years will help untangle charges of impropriety and misuse of authority.
The state attorney general is investigating possible Medicaid fraud involving Helemano Plantation operations and the state auditor will examine a government-contracted agency that has aggressively raised questions about Helemano's performance. Both groups have gone to court with claims and counterclaims and are in mediation.
However, a global assessment would sort out issues, such as privacy and confidentiality, guardianship and advocacy for the developmentally disabled adults and the adequacy of government oversight.
At the heart of the matter, as reported by the Star-Bulletin's Susan Essoyan and Ken Kobayashi, is Helemano Plantation, a multipronged set of businesses that provides for the needs of 60 clients, who are adults with disabilities. Most of the clients, a total of 42, live in homes on the property and receive meals, health care, education and training, financial services and employment.
Several companies are tied to the operation, including the nonprofit Opportunities for the Retarded Inc. and a for-profit entity that runs businesses where clients can get job experience, and that contracts custodial and food services for military bases where some clients work.
The potential for conflicting interests drew the attention of the Hawaii Disabilities Rights Center, a group designated by the government to protect and support disabled people. The center's attempts to look into allegations of improprieties by ORI sparked lawsuits and counter-suits that have entangled Helemano and HDRC since 2004.
Some of the Helemano residents have court-appointed guardians; others have no guardians, but instead have families involved in their lives. A few have neither. The state Department of Human Services last year found no problems with ORI but the potential for exploitation remains, and the department should be more active in ensuring the welfare of residents.
Both ORI and the center have the essentially the same mission -- to provide the disabled with appropriate care and to help them thrive. It is unfortunate that they are at odds and that the conflict has caused unease among families and those who depend on their services.
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