In a written response to the agreement, DADS said the new direction allows it to continue with a clear action plan for ensuring the safety and well-being of the vulnerable Texans in its care.
"It is important to know that we have not been waiting on an agreement to start making changes," said Cecilia Fedorov, press officer for the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services. "We initiated improvements to our state schools before the Department of Justice's first visit to our state, and we continue to make additional significant improvements."
DADS said it will hire 1,160 additional staff for the 13 facilities, including 27 psychiatrists, 11 clinical pharmacists and eight dentists to meet the standards of care outlined in the agreement.
But many are still not confident this new agreement will go far enough in improving the troubled state school system.
"They've already dumped lots of money into the system and nothing has really improved," said Beth Mitchell, Senior Managing Attorney of Advocacy Inc., an organization that works to protect the rights of Texans with disabilities. "It's sad that we may end up spending a significant amount of money and not see a significant improvement to the system."
Mitchell said she hopes the agreement includes alternative approaches to the large institutional settings.
"Some of the money needs to go toward closing and consolidating the schools along with moving individuals into a community setting to ensure better and more appropriate care," said Mitchell.
Senate Bill 643 introduced by Rep. Jane Nelson, passed the Texas House yesterday and is returning to the Senate with amendments. The bill establishes an Office of Independent Ombudsman to audit the state schools biannually and be a confidential liaison for parents, clients and guardians.
The bill also created a toll-free hotline to report abuse, neglect and misconduct; requires video camera surveillance in common areas of each state school; require DADS to perform drug tests, fingerprinting and background checks of state school employees.
The approval of the agreement by the attorney general is only the first part of the process. The Texas Legislature must now pass a resolution in support of the agreement with the Department of Justice before it becomes final.