Group Home Closed: Residents Sexually Abused, Medications Missed

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URBANDALE, Iowa -- Sixteen-year-old Joe Buerckley didn't get a good start.  His adoptive mother says his biological parents abused and neglected him, which left Joe with a brain injury and psychiatric problems.

"He has an IQ of 63.  He has reactive attachment disorder.  He has borderline autism," says his mother, Suzie Buerckley.

Buerckely and her husband began fostering Joe when he was four and adopted him two years later.  They tried to care for him in their home, but three years ago they decided a group home, located at 3505 Hillsdale in Urbandale, would better serve his needs and help him live more independently.

"Joe needs to know that at 8:10 every morning he brushes his teeth, at 8:20 he’s going to have breakfast and now that he’s in school, that at 8:30, the bus is going to come," said Buerckley.

At school, Joe enjoys working with his rabbit.  Cleaning out its cage is one of his chores.  It gives him purpose and is part of his highly structured day.  Suzie has never worried about Joe at school.  In fact, she says the teachers and counselors at Urbandale High School were the first to alert her to potential problems at the group home Joe shared with two other young men.

Suzie Buerckley recalls the time Joe came to school and said he didn't feel right.  He told the teacher "they made me take a pill that wasn't mine."  That pill turned out to be lithium, which isn't prescribed to Joe.

"It was for another child that lived in that group home," said Buerckley.

That was in January.  Three months later, teachers told Buerckley her son was being placed in "time out" more frequently.  His behavior was so  erratic, counselors weren't sure he'd be able to remain in school.  Buerckley soon realized why.

"Twenty-six or 27 days out of April they mis-medicated my son.  It was a schedule two medication... which is by law to be counted every eight hours," said Buerckley.  "So, three times a day someone signed off saying that that med was given to my son and it was never given."

The incidents were documented, but Buerckley says she didn't find out about the medication errors until the Iowa Department of Human Services contacted her.

REM Iowa, the company in charge of Joe's group home, declined an on-camera interview but issued a statement, saying in part, "REM Iowa is committed to providing quality of life enhancing services to the individuals we are privileged to support.  We take our obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of those we serve very seriously."

But Buerckley says the situation only got worse.

"The house just went out of control ... Joe would call me and say this child showed me his penis."

Reports to the DHS show a resident at the home sexually abused Joe and another resident on at least three occasions.

"And I went and I said, how are you going to guarantee that my child is not going to be sexually assaulted in this home.  And they said, 'Well, we can’t guarantee that.'"

REM Iowa blames the staff at the home.  "Despite our best efforts we faced a continual challenge in recruiting and retaining the caliber of staff we believed were necessary for meeting the unique needs of children served in this program."

In August, REM Iowa decided to close the home.  Buerckley received 30-days notice that she would have to find a new place for Joe to live.  With a limited number of group homes in the state, Buerckley was forced to pull Joe out of school and bring him home, which for a child like Joe, is easier said than done.

"Joe will try so hard," said Buerckley, tears welling up in her eyes.  "He will try.  He will try really hard. And he will try to be what he says is 'good' because he doesn’t understand emotion ... he will try to be good, but at some point it won’t be good and when it’s not good, it’s awful."


  • Mary

    Will we ever have a governor and legislators again who will better regulate these homes? Same goes for nursing homes, nonprofit organization Families for Better Care gave Iowa a “F” for overall quality. Iowa is a disgrace in caring for our most vulnerable.

  • Shay W

    I don’t buy it. So despite everything that was supposedly going on within the home, she kept her son there and is complaining they closed it?
    Parents have access to their medication sheets and apparently they didn’t even try to check the sheets.
    Sounds like she’s going to for a lawsuit to me. It sounds like she barely visited her son while he was in the home. If so, I think she would have noticed if her son was ‘off’.
    Her claims of sexual abuse frankly don’t sound like more than someone pulling their pants down in front of someone which can sometimes be a behavior of someone with special needs.

    • Kevin

      I certainly hope you are not in this field of service. If so, with that way of thinking I would have great concern over your ability to provide a safe, supervised environment.

      • Shay

        No I think it’s just interesting that the parents never asked questions until after. I mean where they when this was happening?

      • kevinm66

        This child obviously has significant mental health issues and intellectual disabilities, along with the abuse he sustained as a small child. His parents adopted him and did I’m sure the best they could. But there comes a time when you have to accept you’ve done all you can at home for your child and entrust his care to “professionals .” I’m sure mom and dad visited and he went home often. The blame I place is on upper and middle management for not providing accurate until announced visits to these homes. To often when one gets an office job, they stop being concerned for those they are left charge to care for.

    • Max

      Her son is one of the lucky ones. Too many people in situations like these do not have anyone who is attentive to their care. Thanks to this family and to WHO for reporting this frightful news.

    • Diane

      ” Sounds to me…” Why do you think you are an authority of any kind with such ignorant statements? Were you a worker there?

  • Margaret C.

    I wouldnt buy it either, Susan never had time for Joey. She would tell him she was coming to visit and then backout over and over again. He never got to go home for visits, basically she just did not care. But now suddenly she can get her 15 mins of fame so she is all over it. Also in the past Joey instigated several of the sexually inappropriate gestures and exposed himself as well. Why do we only get one side of the story? The only thing accurate is that 80% of the staff hired could not give a crap about their job, they see it as “easy” money. The staff that did care are driven out by crappy wages and overworked to make up for those that did not do their job.

    • Diane

      Your response is so inappropriate. as is Bob’s. Privacy issue here and you are displaying no professionalism. What kind of person does and says what you have said here about a client? The agency that hired you should go under ASAP. You and Bob can and should be fired for the statements you have made here. Libel and slander …. ever heard of them? Privacy oath? HIPPA law?

      • Jo

        Spot on! So many HIPAA violations going on here.. Not to mention… The name of another REM individuals were on the paperwork that was in the news report… Why would they not black that out?!

    • Scott

      Margaret, Do you regularly break confidentiality? My guess is that you work for REM because any organization that has such a prolong and consistant string of med errors probably doesn’t worry about HIPAA either.

      • Margaret C.

        First of all the article itself addressed him by name and gave out oodles of information. I am simply saying that the information Susan gave is inaccurate. She simply wants attention, I am sure the fact he is at home irks her to no end. She would prefer to shelve him somewhere and let others care for him. Its despicable, he can be a very sweet child and if he had the proper caring parents his situation would be infinitely different.

  • Hoots Beerpig

    Although there are always 2 sides to every story and REM has issued “official” statements from their lawyers. Employees who comment in this forum or any other are most likely violating HIPAA laws at the very least. And no, I am not an employee of REM.

  • Bob Patterson

    Yes, half this information is a lie! She never visited and rarely even gave him his money for groceries let alone weekly spending money when she got $1,100 a month for him that she kept for herself. Additionally, she didn’t even fill out required paper work for funding. REM actually wasn’t even paid by medicaid for at least two to three months because she would not fill out the paper work required to keep on the brain injury waiver. She even made strong promises to Joey that she couldn’t keep including taking him on a week long vacation over winter break if he reduced the amount of behavior episodes and lost some weight. But then the week before he was supposed to go she called him at school to tell him even though he held up his end of the bargain she wasn’t going to take him. Additionally much of those medication errors were completely exaggerated. He never missed Vyvanse for that long and everytime a medication error occurs there is a whole process that companies are required to go through by the state which I can assure you were taken. Yes I will admit there were some staffing and supervision issues and I can tell you that these issues were addressed with the staff at fault. She is trying to make everyone feel sorry for herself by exaggerating everything because she does not want him to be at her house. In fact I am sure she still owes REM thousands of dollars for rent and utilities that she just refused to pay, when again she get 1,100 for an adoption subsidy that she just wants for herself. So don’t believe every story you hear. Just because she takes it upon herself to tell lies local news doesn’t mean you should all believe it.

    • MaryKay

      Bob, if you are not already you should be fired. It’s because of people like you is why I have my grandma living at home with me.

      • John Slinger

        Hey, Suzie, opened up the discussion. If she didn’t this information to come out, she should’ve never contacted the news to do a story about it.

    • Megan

      I agree. You are giving out to much detailed information, and I could probably bet that you had to sign papers about confidentiality. In case you forgot, that means not disclosing any information regarding the residents.

    • Scott

      Thank you Bob for providing your last name; this will make it so much easier for the State to come after you for breaking confidentiality. But then if you worked in that home you’re probably already in plenty of trouble for the med errors. How hard is it to pop the correct meds out of the bubble cards anyway?

    • Margaret C.

      All true Bob, ignore the others. They clearly have never worked in the field otherwise they wouldnt be so ignorant!

      • Hoots Beerpig

        You are clearly the ignorant one Margaret. I do work in the field and I do know what it’s like. You two may both have very valid points and I understand your frustration of both sides not being heard, BUT, you both have violated HIPAA laws in bringing this information here.

      • Ashley

        You, Bob and others like you should NEVER be working in this field EVER again. You guys are not only ignorant but cold hearted.

      • Margaret C.

        Lol you people are ridiculous, you make all sorts of assumptions based on nothing. I know the company, I know the house that they are talking about and I know the clients they are referring to. This story is not even close to the reality of what happened. Granted I was not there at the end, I cant imagine it changed that drastically. Though the employees they were hiring before were slowly getting worse and worse as far as their total lack of desire in helping the residents. REM kept hiring people who could not even fully speak or understand english and expected them to interact with those that struggle with communication.

  • Peter M Abraham

    If you look up the requirements for reactive attachment disorder on the DSM V, you’ll find that autism and R.A.D. don’t mix typically meaning you have one or the other, not both. Given the low IQ (moderate intellectual deficiency disorder) would also be an indicator the diagnosis of reactive attachment disorder might be an incorrect diagnosis. Incorrect diagnosis hurts the one diagnosed as they do not receive proper care, hurts the ones around them because as they do homework, they may try inapplicable actions to help, as well as society in general who may not do homework on the diagnosis and believe the person with the diagnosis is representative of the diagnosis.

  • Raquel

    Do any of you here have a child with special needs? Because I do, and I raised her at home. I struggled with her everyday, and she was a challenge. I enrolled her in “normal” schooling the way she was treated there was no better than if she would have been in a home. I also worked with adults with special needs, to report abuse in a setting like that is one of the hardest things to do/prove. I wouldnt be talking about parents not visiting sometimes its harde to see your failure as a parent than it is to see your child in a group home.

  • Mya Kellar

    My sister was also in a group home run by REM. The staff in these houses have no control over them. One would hit her all the time and was mean to everyone. A staff member tried raping her twice while she was sleeping. Luckily she woke up and was able to fight him off. Why in the world would they have male staff assigned to a house with female patients???

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