Release date: October 22, 2020


David Carlson, Director of Advocacy

Disability Rights Washington

(206) 324-1521

Christopher Carney, Attorney

Carney Gillespie PLLP

(206) 445-0212

Family brings suit to hold DSHS accountable for deadly neglect at beleaguered Rainier School for disabled adults

TACOMA – Today, the family of JoHanna Pratt, Disability Rights Washington, and Carney Gillespie PLLP filed a suit in Pierce County Superior Court against the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) for neglect, claiming that DSHS wrongfully caused the death of JoHanna Pratt and violated state law against abuse of vulnerable adults.

At the time of her death in 2017, Ms. Pratt lived in Rainier School, a state owned and operated institution for adults with developmental disabilities. Ms. Pratt’s death was preventable. She died because medical staff at Rainier did not take seriously her treatable but life-threatening symptoms of a pulmonary embolism following foot surgery.

JoHanna Pratt’s goals were consistent with those of many people– she wanted to live a dignified, independent life near her family. Tragically, due to neglect at the state-operated facility she relied on for care, she never realized that wish.

Rainier School in Buckley, Wash., is one of four state-run institutions known as Residential Habilitation Centers (RHCs). The four RHCs house over 600 residents with developmental disabilities. The RHCs are tasked with supporting all the individuals in their care to gain the skills necessary to live as independently as possible in the community through a comprehensive education program.

Disability Rights Washington has released multiple reports documenting dangerous conditions, negligent care, and ineffective treatment at Rainier School.  In 2019, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services terminated federal funding for part of Rainier School, citing the institution’s failure to meet basic safety and health requirements.

A year before she died, Ms. Pratt and two other Rainier School residents sued the state to vindicate their right under federal law to live independent lives in the community.  In July of 2018, the state settled with the remaining plaintiffs in C.F. v. Strange, et al, agreeing to concerted efforts to ensure their release from Rainier School to community living, as Ms. Pratt wanted to do.


Marvieen Pratt, JoHanna’s mother: “I spoke to JoHanna nearly every day, I loved her so much and our relationship brought me so much joy. We are devastated to have lost her like this, and I really hope that this can be a wake up call for the State to keep people safe at Rainier School.”

Chris Carney: “JoHanna deserved so much better than this. The State put JoHanna in an institution, where she had no way of getting help on her own. She was completely dependent on the staff of Rainier School, and they let her down in the worst possible way, causing her death. This tragedy could have been avoided if the State had simply followed the instructions given by JoHanna’s doctor. The State must be held accountable.”

David Carlson: “As long as the State continues to isolate people who need support in large, decaying institutions like Rainier School, tragedies like this one will continue to occur. We need to move forward to creating supportive and inclusive community placements for people with disabilities that will foster their independence and well-being instead of institutions.”