NYAPRS Note: The following is an op-ed in today’s Albany Times Union written by our colleague Glenn Liebman from MHANYS. We very much agree with his sentiments that recovery best happens in a safe and caring environment and that the Governor’s Justice Center proposal is a critical step to weeding out abuse in our service environments across the state, as well as his contention that “most direct care workers are doing wonderful work in difficult circumstances” and deserve training as needed to help guide their efforts in difficult situations. We have also advocated for a continuation of the kind of consumer input and oversight in the Justice Center that is currently provided by CQCAPD’s advisory council.
Agency Will Protect Residents with Special Needs
By Glenn Liebman, Albany Times Union Commentary May 22, 2012
For years, New Yorkers who are disabled or have special needs have borne witness, along with their family members, to the urgent need to reform the state’s system for protecting its most vulnerable citizens.
There have been horror stories of neglect, physical assaults, and sexual abuse against people with special needs and disabilities.
More than 10,000 allegations of abuse were lodged in the last year alone.
Those who inflicted this violence the very people who have been charged with taking care of these residents have too often been left unpunished. Some who were fired for abuse have been allowed to keep working with vulnerable New Yorkers by leapfrogging to a different provider or agency that has no knowledge of their bad record.
For more than a decade, our organization has run a Parents with Psychiatric Disabilities project. During that time, we have responded to many of the abuse and neglect concerns voiced by parents in the project. It is a very real issue that needs a strong systemic response.
There are many dedicated, hardworking and compassionate people who work in these homes and facilities, and do a great job caring for those who are in need. We must continue to provide training and career opportunities for them. We must also ensure a strong consumer and family voice in helping to respond to issues of abuse and neglect.
One thing is very clear. One case of abuse that goes unanswered is one case too many. But for the first time in years, we finally have an opportunity for real reform.
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a plan to give New York the strongest standards for protecting people with disabilities and special needs in the nation.
The governor has proposed creating the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs. This new agency would be solely dedicated to protecting patients, rooting out and prosecuting abusers, and making sure they never again work in the system.
Specifically, the Justice Center will have an inspector general dedicated to investigating allegations of abuse and a special prosecutor who will see that abusers are brought to justice. This agency also will keep a database that will track abusers and bar them from working in a facility that cares for people with developmental or special needs. It also will create a 24-hour hot line to report abuse.
The governor is seeking to right a wrong that has been allowed to fester for decades.
New York needs to close the book on this shameful part of our history. We hope that Cuomo’s Justice Center becomes a reality this legislative session.
Glenn Liebman is CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State.