NYAPRS Note: The Cuomo Administration is considering moving New York’s Protection and Advocacy program from the Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for People with Disabilities to a nonprofit, as is typically done in other states. NYAPRS has supported this approach, citing the greater level of independence and closer representation to people with disabilities our P&A could have if it’s operated outside the Executive Branch (of which CQCAPD is a part).
State Ponders Relinquishing Its Oversight of Vulnerable
By Danny Hakim New York Times April 23, 2012
ALBANY – The Cuomo administration is strongly considering relinquishing some of the state’s oversight and monitoring responsibilities over vulnerable populations, and giving that power to a nonprofit advocacy group, a top administration official said Monday.
The administration discussed its plans after The New York Times obtained a report in which the state agency charged with oversight of vulnerable populations in New York said it had a “fundamental conflict” that prevented it from fulfilling its mission. The agency, the Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons With Disabilities, recommended that much of its work be turned over to a nonprofit group.
The core of the problem, the report says, is that the commission, because it is controlled by the governor, cannot sue on behalf of people with disabilities, or advocate independently for legislation.
The Commission on Quality of Care is charged with monitoring the care of people with developmental disabilities, mental illnesses and other health concerns, including traumatic brain injuries – and with watching over far larger state agencies that run and regulate group homes.
Most other states have created nonprofit groups that take on much of the work handled by the Commission on Quality of Care in New York.
The commission circulated its self-assessment earlier this month, but did not make it public. The proposal to turn over much of its authority to a nonprofit came after prodding by the federal government, and is a tacit acknowledgement that the state has failed in its monitoring of the abuse and neglect of vulnerable populations.
Asked about the report, Richard Bamberger, the governor’s communications director, said, “The Cuomo administration feels strongly that the system for the oversight and protection of persons with disabilities must be strengthened and overhauled, and, therefore, we are looking at whether designating a nonprofit to provide these services may be the best course of action.”
It is not clear how the administration would approach choosing a nonprofit to assume such a role.
The commission’s report follows one in January from the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, which sharply criticized New York’s oversight of agencies that care for people with disabilities. The federal report said that the state agency charged with oversight lacked independence from the governor’s office, had failed to account for how it was spending public money and had broken several requirements of federal law. It also questioned whether the commission could be effective if it reported to the governor’s office, alongside the agencies it is supposed to monitor.
Further problems with New York’s oversight structure were highlighted in a federal court ruling this month. The commission contracts much of its work out to nonprofit groups, but the court ruled that one of those groups, Disability Advocates, Inc., did not have standing to sue on behalf of mentally ill adults. The ruling cast doubt on whether other independent groups have standing to sue, unless they are designated as the state’s official protection and advocacy agency.
“The governor should act quickly,” said Bridgit M. Burke, who runs the Civil Rights and Disabilities Law Clinic at Albany Law School, one of the groups that has a contract with the commission. “We have to have independence and we have to be able to take action when we see people’s rights are being violated.”
Cliff Zucker, the executive director of Disability Advocates, said the recent legal decision “does make it more urgent.”
He also said that the commission’s current approach, which is to use a number of nonprofit groups as contractors, has its limitations.
“If you look at it right now, there are 20 different agencies doing this job – that does not lend itself to a coordinated advocacy strategy,” Mr. Zucker said. “It makes it difficult to have an effective response to systemic problems….”