Cuomo Calls for New Protections for Disabled
By Beth Wurtmann WNYT May 7, 2012
ALBANY – Governor Andrew Cuomo called for new protections for New
Yorkers with disabilities and special needs, with the creation of a new
agency called the Justice Center.
“They deserve to be safe. They deserve to have dignity. They deserve to
be treated fairly,” he said.
Cuomo said he wants to end decades of abuse and neglect at state
operated, certified or licensed facilities that went unpunished, like
the kind that Albany resident Kathryn Cascio said happened to her when
she was a patient at a downstate facility.
“I was subjected to decrepit living conditions and experienced
inappropriate sexual behavior by male staff members who I was supposed
to trust,” she said. “I went through the system never knowing who I
could talk to, if I could file a complaint or whether I could go for
help to stop the abuse.”
The Governor’s proposed Justice Center would establish with a special
prosecutor and inspector general to investigate criminal allegations, as
well as a hotline for complaints. It would also set up a statewide
database to track reports of abuse, and register workers who have
committed serious acts.
Pat and Lisa Anson of Marcy, NY, whose son suffers from cerebral palsy,
said it would put caregivers of the disabled on notice to treat patients
“They’ve got their own struggles they don’t need someone to treat
anybody that’s not going to take care of them properly,” Lisa Anson
But Michael Carey, whose developmentally disabled son Jonathan died at
the hands of caregivers while on an outing from Schenectady’s OD Heck
Center, worried that the proposed center won’t be truly independent.
“It’s not independent. It’s not completely independent investigations.
It’s still the state versus the state. A hotline should be operated by
an private entity it shouldn’t be operated by the State,” he said.
Signs of Support as Cuomo Outlines Plan on Disabled Abuse
By Danny Hakim May 7, 2012
ALBANY – With just seven weeks to go in the legislative session, Gov.
Andrew M. Cuomo
uomo/index.html?inline=nyt-per> said Monday that he was determined to
win passage of legislation overhauling the state’s response to the abuse
and neglect of vulnerable residents.
There was reason for him to be both optimistic and cautious. The
Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and the Senate majority
leader, Dean G. Skelos, a Republican, appeared alongside the governor at
a news conference when he unveiled the new proposals and had nice things
to say about him and his ideas. But neither lawmaker endorsed the
Labor unions, the largest potential stumbling block to legislation that
could lead to discipline of public workers, did not attack his proposals
in their initial statements, suggesting they might be open to a
Mr. Cuomo is proposing to create an agency dedicated to investigating
problems with the care of nearly one million vulnerable New Yorkers,
including those with developmental disabilities, mental illnesses,
traumatic brain injuries and other conditions. It would have a special
prosecutor and be granted subpoena power and the authority to convene
“We all know that for years our state services have not been doing what
they should be doing in this field,” the governor said in a news
conference crowded with advocates and a number of people with
disabilities, adding, “It’s an unfortunate microcosm of the
deterioration of state government, in my opinion, over the past 15
Mr. Silver, in his remarks, suggested there would be considerable work
required on the legislation, once details were proposed. “We support the
overarching goals of the legislation outlined today,” he said. “The
challenges here are complex, highly sensitive and require substantial
Mr. Skelos was more forceful in his comments, saying that “we are going
to have a positive result, not tomorrow, but today, this legislative
While state-run group homes and institutions care for less than half of
those in residential care, labor unions that represent public workers
have vigorously defended workers accused of abuse and neglect and have
criticized a series of articles in The New York Times last year
highlighting cases of abuse and neglect.
But Danny Donohue, of the Civil Service Employees Association, said in a
statement, “Our initial impression is positive,” adding that the
initiative “appears to have a broad mission to ensure consistent quality
of care and maintain independent oversight.”
Many advocates for the vulnerable praised the proposals. Cliff Zucker,
executive director of Disability Advocates Inc., said, “The system
hasn’t been working well, and although I have not seen the language of
the bill yet, it appears to be a comprehensive and well-thought-out
Not all agreed. Michael Carey, one of the most outspoken advocates, said
he believed that the state needed to do more to prevent abuse before it
happened – by installing cameras in group homes, training caregivers to
call 911 when abuse is alleged and putting further limits on overtime to
reduce worker fatigue.
Mr. Carey said he was also worried about empowering another state agency
when so many had failed.
“Independent law enforcement agencies and D.A.’s need to be notified of
these crimes,” he said.
But district attorneys who attended the briefing on Monday said they
welcomed the idea of an agency with specialized expertise in cases that
can be difficult to prosecute because they involve victims who cannot
speak, among other complexities.
“I have experienced the difficulty in prosecuting cases like this,” said
Kathleen M. Rice, the Nassau County district attorney. “I think most
D.A.’s are going to welcome this.”
Guarding The Disabled
Cuomo Plans Justice Center To Protect Those With Special Needs
By Rick Karlin Albany Times Union May 7, 2012
ALBANY – Hoping to move beyond a tragic and sordid record in state
government, Gov. Andrew Cuomo
local&search=1&inlineLink=1&query=%22Andrew+Cuomo%22> on Monday said he
plans to create new state entity to consolidate oversight of the
agencies that care for approximately 1 million disabled New Yorkers.
“People deserve fairness; people deserve justice – that’s what this
initiative is all about,” Cuomo said in unveiling his proposed Justice
Center for the Protection of People
f+People%22> with Special Needs.
Under the plan, a new 400-person agency would investigate and in some
cases prosecute allegations of abuse and neglect at facilities run by a
slew of state agencies, most notably the state Offices for People with
Developmental Disabilities, as well as Office of Mental Health and the
Office of Children and Family Services
In addition to those agencies, the new center would also police the
departments of Health and Education as well as the Office of Alcohol and
Substance Abuse Services
they pertain to the disabled.
The Justice Center would consolidate the self-policing and investigatory
functions that these state agencies now have, and it would take over
much of the work currently done by the state Commission on Quality of
The CQC as well as investigative functions of agencies like OPWDD have
long been criticized as ineffective and unable to prevent abuse of the
state’s most vulnerable.
People with conditions such as severe autism, cerebral palsy or
developmental disabilities frequently live in residential centers
operated by OPWDD or in centers run by non-profit state-funded groups.
Those with mental illness such as schizophrenia are cared for by the
Office for Mental Health
The state has weathered a history of complaints about lax punishment of
workers who mistreat or neglect people in their care.
A recent New York Times
local&search=1&inlineLink=1&query=%22New+York+Times%22> series, for
instance, detailed how OPWDD employees who were caught abusing residents
were simply shuffled off to other facilities instead of being fired.
Stories about abuse and neglect have appeared on and off for years,
ranging from the scathing 1970s exposes of treatment at the notorious
local&search=1&inlineLink=1&query=%22Willowbrook+Center%22> to articles
in the Times Union
local&search=1&inlineLink=1&query=%22Times+Union%22> in recent years
about lax safety standards that led to a fatal fire in an OPWDD
residential center in the Adirondacks.
Cuomo acknowledged as much, blaming some of the problem on a steady
decline in the quality of government administration over the decades.
“This is a state government where dysfunction is rampant,” he said.
Under the governor’s proposal, the Justice Center would include an
inspector general as well as a prosecutor who could subpoena accused
workers and bring findings to a grand jury.
If the abuse in a given instance rises to the level of criminality, the
prosecutor could work with county district attorneys to bring charges.
The agency would also maintain a 24-hour hot line where abuse
allegations can be reported, as well as a registry of those found to
have abused the disabled and therefore banned from such jobs.
Legal penalties for abuse also would be toughened; the law would
establish that people in residential facilities cannot consent to sex
with employees – a change that would make it easier for prosecutors to
prove sexual abuse when the victim may not be able to testify
Legislative leaders including Assembly Democratic Majority Speaker
local&search=1&inlineLink=1&query=%22Sheldon+Silver%22> and Senate
Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos
local&search=1&inlineLink=1&query=%22Dean+Skelos%22> – who were at the
announcement – signaled their support for the measure, saying it would
likely be passed into law as Cuomo wants by the end of this legislative
Michael Carey, who has emerged as a key proponent of reforms after his
autistic son Jonathan died in 2007 while in state care, said the package
wasn’t perfect. He believes there could be more emphasis on prevention
rather than policing the agencies, and he has pushed for wide use of
surveillance cameras in residential centers.
Others believe cameras could raise privacy issues since the centers are
homes for the people who live there.
When asked about prevention during his press conference, Cuomo replied
that “locks keep honest people honest,” meaning that deterrence can
serve as a good preventive tool.
And public employee unions who represent workers in residential centers
and facilities may push back against some of the changes. Unions and
OPWDD have been tangling for months over developing a new table of
punishments for staffers who are found to be abusive.
Also, staffing the new entity could prompt some scrutiny: Cuomo’s
Secretary Larry Schwartz
local&search=1&inlineLink=1&query=%22Larry+Schwartz%22> said the new
Center would be staffed by both new hires and people pulled out of the
Critics might question the use of people from those agencies, where the
abuse has long been overlooked, in a new watchdog function.
On Monday, unions said they were supportive of the improvements, but
stressed that they still need to see details.
* 24/7 Hotline to Report Abuse: The Justice Center will operate
an around-the-clock hotline that will immediately classify the
allegations and route reports to law enforcement agencies, when
* Comprehensive Database: The Justice Center will create a
comprehensive statewide abuse database to track and monitor abuse
complaints in order to spot trends.
* Statewide Abuse Register: The Justice Center will create a
register of workers who have committed serious acts of abuse who will be
prohibited from ever being hired again in any position where they would
work with people with disabilities or special needs.
* Consolidation of Background Checks: The Justice Center will
review and evaluate the criminal history for individuals applying for a
job or other position dealing with people with special needs and
* Code of Conduct: All individuals working with people with
special needs and disabilities would be required to subscribe and would
be held accountable to a code of basic ethical standards.
* Special Prosecutor: The Justice Center will have a special
prosecutor who will investigate and prosecute allegations of abuse and
serious neglect that rise to the level of criminal offenses as well as a
team of investigators and lawyers.
* Standardized Definitions for Abuse and Neglect: Currently,
agencies operate with inconsistent and often contradictory definitions
that become a hurdle in reporting instances of abuse, as well as
litigating against cases of abuse. The Governor’s legislation creates
standardized definitions of abuse and neglect regarding children and
adults in covered facilities and programs to enable the Justice Center
to more easily process and address instances of abuse.
* Strengthened Anti-Abuse Laws: The proposed legislation will
increase criminal penalties for endangering the welfare of people with
disabilities and special needs, and strengthen a prosecutor’s ability to
prove that any of these individuals in a facility operated, licensed or
certified by the State was a victim of sexual abuse.