The Rainier School’s Human Rights Committee had a booth at the facility’s annual Summerfest to recruit new members and answer any questions clients, family, or friends may have about the committee and its duties. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

The Rainier School’s Human Rights Committee had a booth at the facility’s annual Summerfest to recruit new members and answer any questions clients, family, or friends may have about the committee and its duties. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Rainier School’s Human Rights Committee needs new members

In order to keep some patients safe and healthy, their individual rights may have to be abridged. The Human Rights Committee tries to ensure no right is taken away unnecessarily.

If you’re looking for the opportunity to stand up for the rights of a vulnerable population, the local Rainier State School may have an opportunity for you.

For those unfamiliar with the Buckley-based state facility, it is charged with caring for 250 adults with various mental and physical needs, providing them with residential and community facilities, myriad health services, access to professional social and psychological workers, employment training, and more.

Of course, caring for individuals with developmental disabilities like severe autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome comes with its own set of issues, which is where the school’s Human Rights Committee steps in, said Antoinette Graham, a communications consultant with the school.

“All our clients have some form of intellectual disability. They’re vulnerable adults, so they need the most protection,” she said. “The Human Rights Committee, in essence, is a committee that helps to protect and safeguard the rights of our clients here.”

Part of the difficulty of running a 24/7 facility for people with intellectual disabilities is that every client has their own specific needs — there’s no cookie-cutter treatment or management plan that works for everyone, said Devan Skyles, the current HRC coordinator.

“I feel very strongly about protecting the rights of our clients at Rainier School and that all processes are followed appropriately,” Skyles, who has worked at the Rainier School for nine years in various positions, wrote in an email interview. “My experiences with the clients at Rainier… allows me to take into account how multifaceted individuals our clients can be and that we should respect each ones individuality and work with their Interdisciplinary Team to support their growth.”

But sometimes, Graham continued, those plans involve having to abridge a client’s rights in order to ensure they are healthy and safe, like having their calories restricted for controlled weight loss, needing to be restrained to a wheelchair, or even having a nurse with them at all times.

These are not decisions to be taken lightly, hence why there is a long and involved process when weighing individual rights against health and safety measures.

“They are citizens,” Graham continued. “They have the same rights that we do, so when we take them away, we have to know why.”

THE PROCESS

Determining if a potential treatment would violate a patient’s rights and whether or not that treatment is necessary starts with Rainier School psychologists or habilitation plan managers.

Staff first write a proposal that’s sent to the parents or guardians of the specific client to get their informed consent.

But that’s not enough to move forward with the treatment plan.

“We want to go through as many checks as possible to ensure multiple voices are being heard,” Graham said. “We don’t quite know the knowledge of the parent or guardian — it doesn’t mean what they say isn’t good enough, it’s just to say, ‘here are some more eyes on this restriction,’ just because it’s that important to make sure the right being taken away is absolutely necessary.”

After a parent or guardian gives their consent, the treatment plan is then presented to the Human Rights Committee.

“You want to start with the least-restrictive measure as possible, so the Human Rights Committee really checks to see if this is the least restrictive, but most effective, before moving forward to more restrictive measures,” Graham said.

Everyone on the HRC is a volunteer, but that doesn’t mean they’re relying solely on the information provided to them by Rainier School staff; committee members can consist of other school staff members, the parents or guardians of current or former clients, and people who don’t have a vested interest in the school beyond wanting to serve the school’s population.

Skyles herself has a younger brother at the school, which is part of the reason why she feels called to serve.

“The love and respect for my clients and for my little brother impassioned me to continue my education so that I could become a better advocate for them,” she said. “Many of our clients don’t have family or friends to advocate for them. Being on a committee that does this for them when they may have no one is worthwhile to me.”

However, strict rules limit how many people are on this committee. For example, the HRC can’t have more Rainier School staff members like Skyles than members of the general public.

Additionally, since clients and the parents or guardians of clients can volunteer, there is extra special consideration when it comes to sensitive medical information remaining confidential and not being abused.

But having the opportunity for such a wide range of experiences be part of the committee is needed to make sure everyone’s rights and safety is strongly considered.

“Each right is equally important and its abridgment is always judged carefully,” Skyles continued. “Because the committee process involves community members, guardians, family members of individuals with disabilities, and other interested human service professionals, we feel comfortable asking needed questions and referring to others.”

After being presented with the treatment plan, the HRC then makes an advisory decision, sending it up to Megan DeSmet, the current superintendent, for final approval.

The HRC is not the committee that investigates any potential breach of client rights or crimes, Graham added.

RESPONSIBILITIES AND DUTIES

With only five people currently on the Human Rights Committee — since Rainier School staff volunteers can’t outnumber volunteers from the wider public — the committee has its work cut out for it.

That’s why the school is looking to get more people on the committee.

“Our goal is to get as many people as possible, because once we do that, if we have the adequate people with the proper titles, we can create multiple HRC teams,” Graham said. “That allows for a lighter workload.”

Presently, the HRC meets every Monday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the school at 2120 Ryan Road in Buckley, but with the school reportedly downsizing, it’s possible the number of times or hours the committee meets per month may decrease in the near future.

Additionally, Graham said that it’s not always necessary to be at the school during committee meetings — volunteers just have to be able to make real-time decisions by calling or video-chatting in.

Committee members serve for terms of two to three years; a volunteer can’t serve for more than six years without express approval from the superintendent.

They must also be 18 years or older and be available for training concerning Rainier School rules, policies, and safety procedures.

Besides these requirements, though, volunteers need to be enthusiastic about serving the disabled community.

“The biggest thing that we need from committee members or volunteers in general is for you to be passionate about clients and advocating for them,” Graham said.

To apply to become a HRC volunteer, or for more information, contact Graham at 360-829-3061 or email at atoinette.graham@dshs.wa.gov.

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