DSHS makes changes to protocols after Incident at Alder Lake Park

Release Date: 
Sep 14 2016
DSHS Office of Communications
Kelly Stowe
(360) 902-7739

The Department of Social and Health Services announced today that it has made policy changes related to outings for residents who live at one of the four state-run Residential Habilitation Centers (RHCs) that provide support to people with developmental disabilities.

The change comes after an incident involving a client of the Rainier School  in Buckley who was with staff on an off-site outing. Residents who receive services in the state’s four RHCs often go on planned community outings and have activities scheduled during the week as part of their active treatment plans. Ensuring that residents are able to interact within the communities where they live is important in empowering them to live the lives they want to live.

During an outing last month Rainier School staff members accompanied residents on to Alder Lake Park in Pierce County. One of the residents fell into the water while the group was fishing off a dock. The staff members immediately dove into the water to rescue the client. They got help from a bystander to get the client out of the water and back onto the dock. First aid was provided; the client was treated by first responders and then transported to a local hospital.

The DSHS Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) conducted an internal investigation and found that although staff followed all protocols in place, practices and policies related to outings near water could be strengthened.

An Immediate Jeopardy (IJ) has been issued to Rainier School. This means the RHC, which is home to around 370 residents, is at risk of losing a portion of its federal funding. The IJ was issued on August 31 and DSHS has 23 days to remove the immediate jeopardy.

“We are so grateful this resident was pulled to safety. Our deepest gratitude goes out to the bystander, our staff members and first responders who all helped save a life that day,” said Don Clintsman, Deputy Assistant Secretary with DDA. “Protecting our residents is a role we take very seriously. After this incident, we took a hard look at our existing policies and determined that changes were needed. We will be training staff on updated policies and ensure those policies are being followed.”

The department will now require residents taking part in community outings who are swimming, in a boat or on a dock to wear flotation devices.

As of Sept. 1, DDA had more than 43,000 enrolled clients, of whom just over 700 are served by a RHC. Because of our commitment to helping all clients, including those with the highest needs, live in the most integrated setting possible, the RHC population is presently the lowest it has been in Washington state history.


DSHS does not discriminate and provides equal access to its programs and services for all persons without regard to race, color, gender, religion, creed, marital status, national origin, sexual orientation, age, veteran’s status or the presence of any physical, sensory or mental disability.