Case of maggots in throat offers rare look at neglect probes

In this April 18, 2017, photo, Walter Wenger visits his severely disabled son, Steven, in a hospital in Kingston, N.Y, where he was moved after maggots were twice found in the area around his breathing tube while living in a state group home. The Associated Press obtained a confidential report on the state investigation that determined the 2016 infestations at the group home in Rome, N.Y., were the result of neglect by caregivers. In most states, details of abuse and neglect investigations in state-regulated institutions for the disabled are almost never made public. (AP Photo/David Klepper)
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ROME, N.Y. (AP) — In his bed at a New York state group home for the severely disabled, Steven Wenger lay helpless against a silent invader.

A slimy, wriggling clump was growing around the hole in his throat near his breathing tube. Nurses peered closer and made a discovery almost unheard of in modern American health care: maggots.

For Wenger, unable to walk, speak, or breathe without a ventilator since a car accident 26 years ago, it was the first of two infestations of the larval flies in his throat over successive days last summer, resulting in repeated trips to an emergency room and a state investigation that found days of neglect by caretakers. And if The Associated Press had not obtained a confidential report on the case, it’s unlikely anyone in the outside world would have known anything about it.

That’s because in New York and most other states, details of abuse and neglect investigations in state-regulated institutions for the disabled, addicted and mentally ill are almost never made public, even with the names blacked out.

As a result, it’s easier to check the health record of a neighborhood restaurant than to find out about lapses in care in state institutions and group homes that people may be considering for their loved ones’ around-the-clock care.