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New York Continues to Ignore People with Severe Developmental Disabilities

March 23, 2012 | Rachel Ehmke

Yesterday the Times continued its searing expose of the New York state agencies that provide residential care to people with developmental disabilities. For those new to the story, the charges of mistreatment, neglect and fraud leveled against the state homes and institutions include abusive caregivers, unexplained injuries, and an appalling number of unexplained deaths. Danny Hakim, who has been covering the story for the Times, notes that in 2010 the number of abuse accusations at some facilities "outnumbered the beds."

Hakim's latest piece chronicles the report commissioned by Governor Cuomo to investigate the rampant negligence. A draft of the report obtained by the Times outlines serious problems, including the "regulatory maze" that obfuscates the state agencies' obligation to respond to allegations of abuse. The official investigation documented a system-wide failure to report incidents and properly contact law enforcement as well as a hiring process that does not screen out people with a history of abusive behavior. Even worse, the facilities continued to employ people found responsible for sexual and physical abuse of residents, sometimes choosing to transfer them to different locations instead of terminating their employment. Most importantly, the report also recommends changes to state laws and regulations, starting the vital conversation on how to prevent and properly respond to incidents of abuse.

This should be the beginning of widespread and sorely needed reform, but the governor has not released the report to the public, although drafts reportedly began circulating in October. According to the Times, people "frustrated by the delay" gave a bound copy drafted in December to the newspaper. (The paper has put the draft online here.)

Senator McDonald, chairman of the State Senate's mental health committee, wrote Governor Cuomo a letter this month asking him to release the report "so that we can begin working towards enacting long overdue protections and safeguards." Michael Carey, the father of a severely autistic 13-year-old boy named Jonathan who died in the charge of negligent caretakers at the facility where he lived, is also speaking out. Mr. Carey told the Times, "It's gross negligence that the report has not come out, and it's beyond frustrating. The reforms to date are baby steps towards monster problems."

The report is partially titled "The Measure of a Society" and begins with a quote by Dr. Francis Peabody, who famously said, "the secret of care of the patient is in caring for the patient." But so far the handling of the report has been a disturbing testament to the scarcity of our culture's compassion for one of our most ignored and vulnerable populations.

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