Allegations at St. Mary’s Residential Training School Suggest Troubling Pattern of Abuse, Neglect

patient with IV drip

Allegations at St. Mary’s Residential Training School Suggest Troubling Pattern of Abuse, Neglect

Teens and young adults with disabilities living at the facility have been reported to have been abused and neglected by under-educated and unqualified staff 

Glen Tujague, 22, was placed in St. Mary’s Residential Training School by his family in 2008 as a means to have his needs fostered in a caring environment, due to his diagnosis of autism and cerebral palsy. 

Instead, Tujague has landed in the hospital on multiple occasions due to hygienic neglect and abuse as well as to terrible bruising all over his body – including in the groin area. 

“He’s definitely not the same kid that we brought there,” Tujague’s aunt, Natalie Pilgreen, said. “It hurts me more than anything.” 

Now, St. Mary’s Residential Training School is facing multiple accusations of neglect and abuse based on verified accounts from guardians of children housed within the facility as well as from former staff members. 

St. Mary’s Residential Training School was founded in 1954 and currently serves as a home to around 200 children and young adults with developmental disabilities in Boyce, Louisiana. 

The facilities’ marketing materials state that they welcome individuals from the age of five to 35 while providing them with an educational environment where they can develop and grow mentally, physically, and socially. According to its website, the purpose of St. Mary’s is to help each client recognize their potential and attain a higher level of performability.  

St. Mary’s is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and offers dormitory and group home living options. There are day and job training programs as well as an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Learning Center. Nurses are available around the clock, and meals are served three times a day, according to the facility’s marketing materials. 

The website states there is also a horse-riding area, an indoor pool, splash pads, a gym, beauty shop, playgrounds, mini golf course, and walking track on a 55-acre campus. 

“We all put our kids there for a reason,” Pilgreen said. “I don’t want him hurt. I lose sleep every single night…He’s constantly on my mind.” 

But since Tujague has been at St. Mary’s for over almost a decade and a half, Pilgreen says that it is what he knows and she is hesitant to move him. And while she does not feel safe to keep Tujague at St. Mary’s, she said she has no other choice. Other facilities are further away from her home, and many are un-kept, she said.  

“But he doesn’t deserve to look or smell the way he does,” Pilgreen said. “He doesn’t deserve to be hit on by anyone or pushed so that he falls because he would fall if you push him. He doesn’t deserve any of that.” 

About three weeks ago now, Pilgreen visited Tujague at St. Mary’s, like she regularly does. And yet, what Pilgreen saw was not her nephew. 

Tujague’s hair was greasy and full of dandruff, with the helmet that he wears smelling as if it had never washed before. His ears were full of earwax. His teeth were also definitely not brushed. 

“The body odor was horrendous,” Pilgreen said. “I said ‘I need deodorant and I need q-tips.’” 

Pilgreen said that the staff at St. Mary’s that brought Tujague to her that day claimed they sprayed Dove on him and then also asked her how they are supposed to brush his teeth. 

After her visit with Tujague, Pilgreen provided St. Mary’s with a bar of soap and asked the staff to make sure they washed him that night. She also emailed Bonita Walker, the health services director, reiterating the state in which she saw Tujague earlier that day. 

Walker did not respond with any reference to Tujague’s hygiene for that night. 

“With all due respect, I am not going to argue with you,” Walker wrote. “I understand your position on St. Mary’s, as I have followed it on Facebook. If you feel so strongly about Glenn’s care, by all means come and pick him up!” 

This was not the first time Tujague faced neglect from St. Mary’s either. Pilgreen has filed with the state both abuse and neglect twice. 

In 2013, Tujague’s teacher recognized bruising in his groin area while taking Tujague to the bathroom. The bruising ran down his inner thighs from his pubic area to his knees. 

“With the groin area, we really started suspecting abuse,” Pilgreen said. 

St. Mary’s never reported the bruises or an injury of any kind to Pilgreen like they are supposed to, as per the facility’s arrangement with Pilgreen and many other guardians. When Pilgreen asked about it, she was told that Tujague “fell off of the seesaw.” 

Most recently, however, Tujague’s teacher called Pilgreen with concern over his swollen knee that he could not move. Again, nobody at St. Mary’s told Pilgreen. 

Pilgreen said that Tujague ended up needing surgery. 

“I can’t prove anything, but I’m almost positive that someone broke that knee because he was that kid that would run around and could try to get out of those doors,” Pilgreen said. “So to keep him from getting out of those doors – let’s make it so he can’t run around.” 

Kyle Petrus 

Just over a month ago, a story about Kyle Petrus, 28, another resident at St. Mary’s, sparked a sudden shift in public response on social media, creating increasing anger toward the perceived conditions and treatment of residents at St. Mary’s. 

Petrus, who is nonverbal, autistic, and suffers from epilepsy, landed in the intensive care unit (ICU) after he was maimed, starved, tied to a bed, and tortured, according to Facebook posts by his aunt, April Parker. Petrus’s bones were exposed, and doctors were hoping to save his arm from amputation at the time of his admittance, as his mother, Angela, posted to Facebook. 

People commented on the original post sharing prayers as well as stories of their own children’s neglect at the facilities or how their family and friends were fired from St. Mary’s after speaking up. 

According to a Facebook post on April 22, Petrus’s body was covered with small cuts and fresh sores. He was once able to walk, but now is immobile. In photos he is curled up in a fetal-like position on the hospital gurney. A wound on his elbow was so deep that bone was visible, and he ended up with an infection in his bone according to an MRI, as a May 3 Facebook post by Petrus’s mother stated. He was put on Fentanyl, morphine, and Ativan to provide some relief. 

As of May 27 – eight weeks in the ICU – Petrus is just a few weeks away from being transferred to a long-term acute care (LTAC) facility. 

Petrus’s mom, Angela Parker Petrus used to support St. Mary’s so much so that she created a fundraiser for the facility in honor of her birthday last year in late May. Now, Petrus will not be returning. 

Alex Hayman 

Alex Hayman, 19, was going to be visited at St. Mary’s by his mom Patti Head on May 15, 2020. Due to Covid-19 regulations, Head called ahead the day prior to let the facility know her plans. St. Mary’s agreed and said Hayman would be ready for her. 

A few hours later staff returned Head’s phone call stating that Hayman has some bruises that he obtained from falling from a bike. 

“Well, he cannot ride a bike. He has cerebral palsy and no motor skills,” Head said. “I explained this to them, and they said, ‘Maybe he fell over the bike.’” 

The next day, Head picked up Hayman and immediately she recognized the bike story had to have been fabricated. 

“He had a large circular bruise on the left side of his face. It was fading, but you could see the outline of it clearly,” Head said. “He also had pus coming out of both of his ears.” 

Once Head got Hayman home, she recognized even more bruising along his hips and arm “as if he had been grabbed.” 

“Immediately, I was angry,” Hayman said. “I contacted my ex and his wife to let them know, and I called the police.” 

Because Hayman is nonverbal, the police would not take a report. A St. Mary’s social worker just told Head that “boys would be boys.” 

“He’s easy to deal with, he’s not like a lot of special needs children,” Head said. “I don’t know why they would have done it. But it looks like, especially the round circular bruise on his face, like it was done with an object, and I don’t know how that could occur unless someone hit him.” 

Why Is This Happening? 

Certified nurse Erin Simon, worked at St. Mary’s from September 2020 until March of 2021 when she quit, confirmed that people were not trained well enough to work with people with disabilities. Simon, who is a certified nursing assistant, stated that staff receive four to five days of training from old videos on abuse and neglect as well as self-defense. 

“As long as you have a high school diploma, you can go in and apply for the job and will most likely be hired,” Simon said. “It’s horrible for the people in the program…They have no experience in the medical field. The job is not for everyone.” 

St. Mary’s General Provisions, as laid out by Louisiana, state that it shall ensure that “all staff members are properly certified and/or licensed as legally required.” 

Claudia Barrow, who worked at St. Mary’s in 2015 for a year and then again between November 2021 and April 2022, said that the staff knows that the abuse and neglect is taking place but do nothing about it. 

“They hit (one of the girls) in the face, and they didn’t do anything about it,” Barrow said. “(A worker) got frustrated with her and hit her…They try to treat her bad because she’s nonverbal and they try to make her do something she doesn’t understand.” 

As for the bruising, Simon said that staff called them “body checks” and she saw the after-effects on many occasions. Barrow said that the staff takes it upon themselves to try and hide the bruising, in an effort to not tell the guardians about the abuse. 

“It would have been done by the staff,” Simon said. “The staff wasn’t qualified.” 

Hayman never returned to St. Mary’s after he was picked up in 2020. In the two years that Hayman has been home with Head he has not had a single bruise. 

St. Mary’s Response 

St. Mary’s Administrator Christi Guillot wrote in a statement to Big Easy Magazine that the social media post – prior to being told that is explicitly what they were being questioned about – was “false” and “misleading.” 

The statement was identical to one post on St. Mary’s Facebook page on May 10. It was received by a wide range of reactions from both current and previous families and staff within the facility. Some pointed out the lack of resources and clothing that the residents are provided. Others said that they have never had an issue while at St. Mary’s. 

Tamara McNulty, the facility’s director of development, would not confirm any cases of abuse happening at all within St. Mary’s care. 

And yet, on Facebook, many of the staff at St. Mary’s commented on the post about Kyle. 

“Hello all, they didn’t not {sic} do this to Kyle at all, they kept bringing him to the hospital. Doctors refuse to treat him. We have documents and pictures,” Tete Hill commented on a Facebook post. “It’s funny y’all talking about us workers abuser but we the ones taking care of y’all kids, because parents well most parents don’t want to deal with behaviors or embarrass of their childrens.” 

Hill continued to disclose information about Petrus in the comments, such as how the hospital sent him home with pain medication and St. Mary’s doctor also prescribed him with more. 

“I work there, this is not true,” Hill commented. “I’m not just working there but also bonding with the kids there to I been they for 6 years & didn’t get a complaint nor abuse because I take care of these kids like they my own.” 

Hill claimed in another comment that she had witnessed St. Mary’s staff handcuffed in the facility and sent to jail for abuse. 

Angela Hall, Kristen Suire, and Lec Wilson also chimed in on the comment section asking people how often they visited the children and telling others to “stfu and enjoy yo animals.” 

“Have y’all ever worked with Kyle? Do y’all know how weak his bones are? How he fall constantly?” Wilson commented. “I love all my clients. Y’all ever heard of self harm? Stop going off bs and get some facts.” 

However, according to Guillot, that is not something that those under St. Mary’s direction would say or do, as it has “always” been their policy to “not discuss the individual care, moreover federal law – the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) – prohibits any such disclosure.” 

“St. Mary’s treats allegations of abuse and neglect with the utmost seriousness,” said Guillot’s statement. “St. Mary’s management actively monitors camera footage for appropriate treatment and care of our clients, and any suggestion of abuse launches an internal investigation that begins with placing an employee believed to have mistreated a client on leave. At the same time, the Louisiana Department of Health is notified along with any other appropriate agency such as child protection.” 

The Louisiana Department of Health has confirmed that there is an active investigation into St. Mary’s. However, the department does not comment on active investigations, according to Public Information Officer Eli Melillo. 

While the Attorney General’s Office failed to comment in time for publication, guardians of the abused boys within St. Mary’s care have confirmed they have filed complaints and accusations with the office. 

“St. Mary’s has been an important part of the Alexandria community for nearly 70 years, serving thousands of children and adults, from ages 5 to 50 during that time,” Guillot’s comments state. “We care deeply about each and every one of the nearly 200 men, women, and children under our care today and believe that St. Mary’s is staffed by among the most dedicated and caring professionals in Louisiana.” 

Editor’s Note: The photo of a patient at the request of the family.

After the time of publishing, Angela Petrus received a letter from the Louisiana Department of Health stating that St. Mary’s living quarters, Clark Manor, has violated state or federal regulations. According to the June 2 statement, the facility must report to the department’s Health Standards Section Program Managers detailed plans of how measures will be corrected.

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