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State to overhaul care for disabled amid reports of rampant abuse

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
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— With data showing more than 60,000 reports of abuse against the disabled in one state agency’s care since 2008, New York authorities are set to establish a new prosecutor, inspector general, hotline and other measures next year that Gov. Andrew Cuomo said today will address “long-held injustices.”

Most provisions of the new law establishing the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs take effect June 30. The center, with more than 400 staff, will oversee six state agencies and contractors responsible for residential and day services for about a million New Yorkers with disabilities and special needs under state-funded care.

“It was an unjust system for many, many years,” Cuomo said a day after signing the law. “People talked about it and never did anything and we made real progress in a short period of time.”

In proposing the overhaul this year, the governor noted more than 10,000 allegations of abuse last year against disabled New Yorkers in state-funded facilities.

A report from the Office for Persons With Developmental Disabilities showed 12,139 allegations of abuse last year at that single state agency, which is responsible for about 126,000 disabled.

Michael Carey, of Glenmont, an advocate for the disabled who obtained the reported under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, said the accounts he’s heard from whistleblowers suggest many more unreported cases.

“I believe it’s between four and five times that scope,” he said.

The report showed 60,113 allegations of abuse at OPWDD from 2008 through the third quarter of 2012, including more than 18,000 claims of neglect, nearly 18,000 incidents of physical abuse, 14,000 cases of psychological abuse and more than 6,000 cases of sexual abuse.

It showed 23,249 serious reportable incidents for the period, with 3,162 deaths, 2,769 injuries and 6,854 possible criminal acts.

“This is exactly why Gov. Cuomo signed the justice center legislation into law yesterday, because it establishes the strongest protections for people with special needs in the country and brings a new level of accountability and transparency into the state’s system,” Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing said Tuesday.

The new prosecutor and inspector general will pursue every criminal abuse case, the center will establish a statewide database to track all abuse and neglect reports regardless of source, the complaint hotline will operate around the clock and the state is establishing an outside nonprofit advocate for the rights of those in state care, he said.

Carey’s 13-year-old autistic son, Jonathan, died in 2007 in state care at the O.D. Heck Developmental Center in Niskayuna, smothered by an aide while on an outing, resulting in a $5 million court settlement. The new state agency won’t solve the problem, he said. He instead advocates video cameras, calling 911 to report incidents and letting county prosecutors bring criminal cases.

 
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