Senate Passes Bill Creating Monitor for Disabled Care
By Danny Hakim New York Times May 17, 2012
ALBANY – The State Senate unanimously passed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s legislation to protect developmentally disabled and mentally ill New Yorkers on Wednesday, but some high-profile advocates have been unnerved by what they perceive as flaws in the bill. Assembly Democrats have said that they intend to pass the bill, but will negotiate some changes before the legislative session ends on June 21.
The centerpiece of the governor’s legislation will create a new state agency – the Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs – with prosecutorial powers, giving it authority concurrent with local district attorneys to bring cases against those who abuse people with special needs. The Cuomo administration contends that the new agency would provide vulnerable populations with a dedicated force of investigators and prosecutors who can handle often-complicated cases involving victims who in many cases cannot speak.
The biggest concern among some advocates is that the legislation would continue to give a state agency primary control over reports of abuse and neglect, leaving outside law enforcement and district attorneys beholden to the state’s good faith and competence. They believe that local law enforcement agencies would not be given enough direct access to information under the new system.
Many advocates have a deep distrust of the state, which has for decades failed to adequately monitor lapses in care.
“This program will make this system more dangerous and give the state more power to cover up abuse and neglect,” said Michael Carey, an outspoken advocate whose son Jonathan died while in state care five years ago. He said the legislation would “keep vital cases and information from the police and district attorneys, which will continue to violate the constitutional rights of the disabled.”
Joshua Vlasto, a spokesman for the governor, countered: “The entire purpose of the Justice Center and the special prosecutor/inspector general is to ensure that every case is pursued, even if local officials do not want to pursue it.”
Mr. Carey said he would prefer that caregivers be trained to call 911, even in instances of psychological abuse, including times when workers call developmentally disabled individuals by derogatory names, an approach administration officials view as impractical. The legislation does require that any report of an incident that “may constitute a criminal offense” be forwarded to law enforcement. But while that language seems broad, similar language already in state law has been frequently ignored in the past.
Mr. Vlasto said, “The Justice Center’s 24/7 hot line will be a far more comprehensive resource for reporting every level of abuse and neglect than 911.”
He said hot line attendants would be trained to report cases needing immediate attention to the police, while members of the center could follow up on less severe cases.
That kind of judgment call concerns Mr. Carey, who also believes the administration is doing too little to prevent abuse before it happens. He has pushed a number of proposals, including installing cameras in group homes, placing tight limits on overtime to reduce worker fatigue and increasing staff sizes.
Few advocates are as hostile to the legislation as Mr. Carey, but others also see flaws.
Bridgit M. Burke, the director of the Civil Rights and Disabilities Law Clinic at Albany Law School, said she was concerned that a new nonprofit group being set up to monitor the state’s handling of vulnerable populations would have little access to documents related to abuse and neglect, according to the legislation’s fine print.
“Over all, I think there are a lot of positive things, but I am also very concerned and therefore would encourage people not to vote for it right now, the way it is,” she said.
Cuomo administration officials said they believed that federal laws would ensure that the new nonprofit agency, which would be federally financed and which is being created at the urging of federal regulators, would have access to documents.
The governor has said passing the legislation is his highest priority over the remainder of the legislative session. On Wednesday, he traveled to Syracuse to promote the bill.
“If we are in charge of caring for human beings with special needs, they are going to get the best treatment we can get them,” Mr. Cuomo said in remarks to reporters. “They are certainly not going to be abused in our care, not while I’m governor.”
He has rallied more than a hundred groups behind him, though many are nonprofit providers of services to disabled people who are regulated by the state.
The administration’s proposal comes in response to articles in The New York Times last year describing widespread problems in the care of people with developmental disabilities. The state had been transferring abusive employees from group home to group home, abuse cases were rarely referred to the police, and employees with criminal records were hired.
Executives of nonprofit groups caring for disabled people have also been reaping seven-figure compensation packages, in some cases. The Cuomo administration announced Wednesday the details of a new regulation to limit the amount of state aid that could be used for executive pay.
Duffy Seeks Reforms to Protect Disabled People
By Jill Terreri Rochester Democrat & Chronicle May 17, 2012
Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy promoted the Cuomo administration’s plans to protect people with developmental disabilities during a visit Wednesday to Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing a 400-person department staffed with a special prosecutor and an inspector general that would respond to allegations of abuse of vulnerable populations. The Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs will also include a hotline to report abuse and a tool to prevent fired employees from being rehired in similar positions.
The proposal also subjects facilities not operated by the state to open records laws and increases criminal penalties for abuse.
The reforms, which follow a series of news articles documenting abuse of people who live in state-run facilities, and the ways that abuse is ignored, have received mixed reviews, though the Cuomo administration notes that more than 100 advocacy organizations have signed on to support the changes, including the Arc of Monroe.
Duffy acknowledged that the changes are reactive to reports of abuse.
“What I would hope is a system evolves and people feel empowered and safe to report abuse and that abuse is taken care of quickly,” he said.
While some people with disabilities and their advocates have said an anonymous hotline to report abuse without fear of reprisal is welcome, others have said the new agency still puts enforcement in the hands of state government, which has failed to protect vulnerable populations in the past.
“What about abuse that isn’t reported,” said Chris Hilderbrant, chief operating officer of the Center for Disability Rights. “I don’t see how the Justice Center changes that.”
The existence of the Justice Center will help deter misconduct, said Dr. Nirav Shah, commissioner of the Department of Health, who joined Duffy.
Buffalo resident Mike Rogers, who lives independently but is helped by aides, said that the legislation’s provision to create a statewide registry to prohibit problem employees from working for another contractor or agency after being fired for misconduct was a good step.
The state Senate unanimously passed the reforms on Wednesday.
The cost of the new agency was not immediately available, though Shah said many of the agency’s employees currently work in other departments. The abuse was reported by The New York Times and the Poughkeepsie Journal.
The Journal, a Gannett publication, ran “Money Pit/Money Maker,” an 18-month investigative series that revealed how New York state was milking the federal government by overbilling for matching Medicare funding for the care of the developmentally disabled.
Governor Cuomo Announces Statewide Coalition to Support Legislation Protecting People With Special Needs and Disabilities Grows to Over 100 Members
Albany, NY (May 10, 2012)
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the grassroots coalition formed to support the Governor’s proposed legislation to reform how New York State protects people with special needs and disabilities has grown with more than 100 advocacy groups from across the state now signed on.
The Coalition for the Protection of People with Special Needs will participate in a grassroots effort to raise awareness about Governor Cuomo’s reforms through community outreach, sharing with family and friends, and discussing the legislation online, via Twitter and Facebook.
In addition, these advocates and providers will continue to educate New Yorkers about the state’s vulnerable population and the ways in which Governor Cuomo’s proposed legislation will help protect those who need our help the most. The Coalition will mobilize New Yorkers with special needs, their family, friends and loved ones to share their experiences and help generate support for Governor Cuomo’s sweeping legislation.
This week, nearly 700 advocates who were briefed on Governor Cuomo’s legislation to create a new Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs committed to take action to make sure Albany acts on the proposal this session.
The Governor’s office launched www.justice4specialneeds.com, a website where groups and New Yorkers can learn more about the Governor’s proposal. The site has an action center where visitors can e-mail family and friends about the initiative, submit a video testimonial about the issue, share with fellow New Yorkers on Twitter and Facebook, and stay in touch with the Governor’s office about the issue.
“Change in Albany only happens when the people make it happen,” said Governor Cuomo. “This legislation will make sure that New York leads the nation when it comes to the treatment and protection of people with special needs and disabilities. Now we need New Yorkers to make their voices heard so that Albany will pass our legislative proposal to create a new Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs.”
Paige Pierce, Executive Director of Families Together in NYS, said, “Governor Cuomo’s proposed legislation includes real reforms that will help protect vulnerable New Yorkers and prevent further abuses from occurring. In addition, this bill will provide peace of mind for the family, friends and loved ones of those in the state’s care. The Justice Center will transform monitoring practices and will protect the civil rights of vulnerable people. This is exactly the type of agency that individuals and their families deserve. I am proud to support Governor Cuomo’s bill and hope that both the Senate and Assembly will do the same.”
Harvey Rosenthal, Executive Director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, Inc. (NYAPRS), said, “This is a tremendous advance in weeding out, prosecuting and preventing any future NYS based human services work for those who abuse New Yorkers with disabilities. The Governor deserves tremendous credit for the care, conviction, innovation and amount of resources that were committed today towards these ends. These initiatives will no doubt save lives and end suffering previously/currently experienced by thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities.”
Peter Pierri, Executive Director of the Interagency Council of Developmental Disabilities Agencies, said, “We applaud Governor Cuomo for this broad initiative to insure the safety and protection of vulnerable people in New York State. Safety and protection are the number one priority for the entire community. We also appreciate his acknowledgment and support for the thousands of direct care workers who are doing great work in their community every day to help people recover and move forward with their lives.”
John Coppola, Executive Director of the New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers, Inc., said, “The New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers are committed to working with the Governor and Legislature on this initiative. We are pleased that the Governor has actively engaged consumers and providers in the development of this important work which will not only ensure the safety of persons receiving services, but will also contribute to increased trust and better service outcomes for New Yorkers.”
Governor Cuomo’s proposed Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs will have primary responsibility for tracking, investigating and pursuing serious abuse and neglect complaints for facilities and provider agencies that are operated, certified, or licensed by six state agencies that provide human services.
The following groups have agreed to participate in The Coalition for the Protection of People with Special Needs.
- New York State Rehabilitation Association
- Cerebral Palsy of NYS, Inc.
- NYS Association of Community & Residential Agencies
- Parent to Parent of NYS
- Self-Advocacy Association of NYS
- Learning Disabilities Association of NYS
- Developmental Disabilities Alliance of Western NY
- UCP of NYC
- Interagency Council of Developmental Disabilities Agencies
- Alliance of Long Island Agencies for Persons with Developmental Disabilities
- NY Association of Emerging and Multicultural Providers
- Wildwood Programs
- Down Syndrome Aim High Resource Center
- Epilepsy Foundation of Northeastern New York, Inc.
- Alternative Living Group
- Centro Civico of Amsterdam, Inc.
- Human First, Inc.
- NYS Catholic Conference
- UCPA of Tri-Counties, Inc.
- Center for Disability Services
- Liberty House Foundation, Inc.
- Job Path
- UJA Federation of NY
- Center for Family Supports
- Independent Residences, Inc
- Developmental Disabilities Institute
- Birch Family Services
- Bais Ezra-Ohel Family Services
- The Coalition of Behavioral Health Agencies, Inc.
- Mental Health Association of New York State (MHANYS)
- New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation (NYAPRS)
- Families Together in New York State, Inc.
- Mental Health Empowerment Project
- National Alliance on Mental Illness – New York State (NAMI-NYS)
- Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors, Inc.
- NYS Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare
- Association of Community Living (ACL)
- New York State Coalition for Children’s Mental Health Services
- New York State Care Management Coalition
- Services for the Underserved (SUS)
- Four Winds Hospital – Saratoga
- NYS Psychological Association
- National Association of Social Workers – NYS (NASW-NYS)
- New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers, Inc.
- Friends of Recovery – New York
- Therapeutic Communities Association of NY
- Coalition for Community Services
- Addiction Treatment Providers Association
- Committee of Methadone Program Administrators, Inc (COMPA)
- Phoenix House, Inc.
- Hope House, Inc.
- Odyssey House, Inc.
- Acacia Network
- Camelot of Staten Island
- Outreach Project
- St. Joseph Rehabilitation Center
- Liberty Management
- Samaritan Village
- Cornerstone Facilities Treatment Network
- Citizen Advocates, Inc.
- Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addiction
- Dynamic Youth
- Council on Addictions of New York State
- Greater New York Hospital Association
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)
- LifeSong, Inc.
- Independent Living Association
- The Mental Health Association of Orange County
- American Academy of Pediatrics – District II NYS
- NYS Citizen Coalition for Children
- Schuyler Center for Advocacy and Analysis (SCAA)
- NYSARC, Inc Statewide
- Achieve (Broome-Tioga Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- Allegany County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.
- Arc of Yates (Yates County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- Chenango ARC (Chenango County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- Genesee ARC (Genesee County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- Lexington Center (Fulton County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- New Visions (Albany County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- PARC (Putnam County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- The Adirondack ARC ( Franklin-Hamilton County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- ARC of Onondaga (Onondaga County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- COARC, (Columbia County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- Heritage Centers (Erie County chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Liberty (Montgomery County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Ontario ARC (Ontario County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Seneca-Cayuga ARC (Seneca-Cayuga Counties Chapter, NYSARC, INC.)
- The Resource Center (Chautauqua County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- The ARCof Steuben (Steuben County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- AHRC New York City (NYC Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- ARC of Oswego (Oswego County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- Herkimer ARC (Herkimer County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- Madison Cortland ARC (Madison-Cortland CountiesChapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- The Arc of Orleans (Orleans County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- The Arc of Otsego (Otsego Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- AHRC Nassau (Nassau County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- Ulster-Greene ARC (Ulster-Greene Chapter, NYSARC,Inc)
- ARC of Oswego (Oswego County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- Herkimer ARC (Herkimer County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara (Niagara County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc)
- The ARC of Monroe (Monroe County Chapter NYSARC, Inc.)
- Saratoga Bridges (Saratoga County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- St. Lawrence NYSARC (St. Lawrence County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- The Arc of Delaware County (Delaware County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Oneida-Lewis NYSARC (Oneida-Lewis Counties Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Warren-Washington NYSARC (Warren-Washington Counties, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Westchester ARC (Westchester County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Schoharie County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.
- Rensselaer County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.
- AHRC Suffolk (Suffolk County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- ARC of Rockland (Rockland County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Chemung ARC (Chemung County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Dutchess ARC (Dutchess County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Jefferson Rehabilitation Center (Jefferson County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Mountain Lake Services (Essex County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Orange AHRC (Orange County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Schenectady ARC (Schenectady County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- SullivanArc (Sullivan County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming (Livingston-Wyoming Counties Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- The Arc of Schuyler (Schuyler County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- The ReHabilitation Center (Cattaraugus County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)
- Wayne ARC (Wayne County Chapter, NYSARC, Inc.)