An advocacy and protection agency for disabled people in West Virginia says state officials are withholding public records from the organization, according to a lawsuit filed in Kanawha Circuit Court this week.
West Virginia Advocates Inc., which operates as Disability Rights of West Virginia, filed a lawsuit on June 17, and in it said the Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Children and Families has denied the organization access to Adult Protective Services records.
The Charleston-based organization also names DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch and Linda Watts, commissioner for the Bureau for Children and Families, as defendants.
The organization is asking for a judge to declare it can access Adult Protective Services records, which include “all records concerning reports of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of vulnerable adults, including all records generated as a result of such reports.”
The organization also is asking for an order for DHHR to provide all Adult Protective Services records from Jan. 1, 2018, to the present, as well as access to those records on a monthly basis moving forward.
The organization additionally asks Chief Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit, to whom the case is assigned, to order DHHR to pay the costs of litigating the matter.
Disability Rights of West Virginia is independent from state government, and the organization has the authority to investigate incidents of abuse and neglect that are reported to them and take administrative, legal and other remedies, according to the lawsuit.
A lawyer with the Attorney General’s office and an attorney representing the DHHR twice denied requests from the organization to access records in November 2018.
The organization said it engaged in negotiations with the attorneys between November and February.
The organization entered an agreement with DHHR to access a specific set of Adult Protective Services records from June 1, 2018, to Dec. 31, 2018.
The organization also keeps records in relation to that set of records, and when they compared the records provided by DHHR to their internal records, organization employees found the state’s records were incomplete.