, Salem, MA

January 2, 2013

Our view: Release report on group home attack

The Salem News

---- — It’s long past time for the state to release its report on the circumstances surrounding the death of Stephanie Moulton.

The 25-year-old Peabody resident was a caseworker at the North Suffolk Mental Health home in Revere in January 2011. A senior counselor, Moulton was working alone when she was attacked and killed. Deshawn Chappell, a resident at the facility with a history of violence and mental illness, is accused of stabbing Moulton, then fleeing with her in her own car and leaving her body behind a church in Lynn.

Since her daughter’s death, Moulton’s mother, Kim Flynn, has become an outspoken advocate for safer conditions for group home workers. She is the driving force behind the proposed “Stephanie’s Law,” which would provide all group home workers with a “panic button” to quickly summon help in an emergency. Working with state Sen. Fred Berry, she also managed to get $100,000 set aside in the state budget for an annual “Stephanie Moulton Safety Symposium.”

It was in October, at a planning session for that symposium, that Flynn first learned of the existence of a new state report on the attack on her daughter.

In an affidavit, Flynn said a senior Department of Mental Health official told her that the investigation into her daughter’s death was complete and that the report was written and would be given to her “within a few days.”

Two months later, that hasn’t happened, and the state’s story has changed more than once.

According to Flynn’s affidavit, Department of Mental Health commissioner Marcia Fowler told her at the Dec. 4 Moulton Safety Symposium that “it was out of her hands and that she didn’t know when (the report) would be released. Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby (who has since resigned) told her the same thing, Flynn said in her affidavit.

During a deposition in the civil suit that Flynn and Bob Moulton, Stephanie Moulton’s father, filed against the state and North Suffolk, a lawyer for the state argued the report was privileged and confidential. At the same deposition, a Department of Mental Health area director said she had seen the report but couldn’t remember what was in it.

Then late last month, Department of Mental Health spokeswoman Anna Chinappi said there is a report, but it isn’t finished.

“The report is in progress, and at this time we do not have a time frame for its completion,” Chinappi told reporter Julie Manganis.

For those of you trying to keep track, according to the state:

There is a report, and it’s ready to be shared;

There is a report, and its contents are to be kept secret;

The report isn’t finished, and no one is sure when it will be.

Not exactly the response that inspires confidence in our state officials or their ability to improve the safety of group home workers.

This hasn’t been the best of years for the Department of Public Health. First, tens of thousands of drug cases were thrown into doubt when state drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan was charged with mishandling and tainting evidence. Then a nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis was traced to Framingham-based New England Compounding Center, which had been manufacturing injectable steroids for widespread distribution in violation of its state license. Let’s hope they are not delaying the release of the report to stave off more negative publicity.

Yes, Stephanie Moulton’s parents want to see the report as part of their lawsuit against the state and the home where their daughter was working when she died. But they have a right to see it, as do the rest of us.

There is a definite public interest in the Department of Mental Health report. The citizens of Massachusetts need and deserve to know what happened at Moulton’s group home two years ago. The report can also shed light on ways to make sure such incidents never happen again.