After completing statewide hearings examining the issue of abuse of individuals with developmental disabilities at group homes and institutions in New York, the Assembly introduced a series of measures to improve the quality of care at these facilities and provide stronger protections for residents.
"As our hearings clearly showed, New York's system of caring for individuals with developmental disabilities is in dire need of reform," said Silver (D-Manhattan). "Governor Cuomo and his administration have begun the process of changing the way New York cares for them. These measures would give providers and individuals the tools they need to ensure the health and safety of people with developmental disabilities."
The four Assembly hearings, held across New York, documented a number of troubling cases of abuse and neglect and clearly demonstrated the need for comprehensive reform.
The legislation would create a prior abuse notification system (A.8330, Weisenberg), mandate immediate reporting of violent crimes (A.8325, Ortiz) and standardize training for providers (A.8323, Bing).
Assembly Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Committee Chair Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), Assemblyman Jonathan Bing (D-Manhattan), Chairman of the Assembly Standing Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation, and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn), Chairman of the Assembly Standing Committee on Codes and other members of the committees took testimony from many different representatives of the developmental disabilities community.
"Some of the testimony we received at our hearings was very troubling and served as the basis for the legislation the Assembly introduced to address the allegations of abuse and mistreatment occurring at state-run and voluntary programs and facilities for individuals with disabilities. Our state should and can do a better job of providing a safe and caring environment for the most vulnerable members of our communities and that is what these initiatives would ensure," said Ortiz.
Silver and Ortiz also commended Assembly members Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) and Mark Schroeder (D-Buffalo) for responding to these serious allegations with legislation that provides greater protections and oversight to New Yorkers under the care of OPWDD facilities.
"While many direct care workers are truly dedicated, clearly there needs to be an investment in the workforce. My bill (A.8323) would see to it that all employees and volunteers receive adequate standard training to raise awareness on current and ever changing policies in regard to abuse prevention and proper reporting," said Assemblyman Jonathan Bing.
"Choosing appropriate care for a loved one can be a difficult decision. Families place their trust in the hands of direct care workers and expect a safe, caring environment for their family member. The measure (A.8330) I sponsored will help end the practice of placing employees or volunteers who have a history of abuse and neglect with individuals with developmental disabilities," said Weisenberg.
"It is very important to ensure that individuals who receive services through the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities have employees working at the regional OPWDD field offices who are truly independent and can advocate on their behalf," said Schroeder.
"This package of bills is a comprehensive first step towards providing individuals with developmental disabilities a safe environment, and that the workforce is supported in a way to meet this challenge," said Lentol.
The Assembly's Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) Quality of Care Legislative Package also would:
ensure that abuse and neglect investigations involving an employee continue whether the employee resigns their position or not. Notices of this policy must be provided to all current and new employees of OPWDD providers (A.8324, Ortiz);
require OPWDD to make at least three unannounced visits. Currently OPWDD is required to make a minimum of two facility visits per year, one unannounced. The bill also would authorize any Development Disability Services Office (DDSO) Board of Visitor member or any other individual approved by the commissioner to attend an inspection as an independent monitor (A.6665-A,Ortiz); and
reinforce that the DDSO ombudsman is an independent advocate by making them an employee of the Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities. Currently, the ombudsman is an employee of OPWDD (A.8322, Schroeder).
In addition, the Assembly has introduced an OPWDD departmental bill (A.8364, Ortiz) to identify disqualifying crimes for individuals applying for employment. This measure would prohibit a person from being hired at a provider licensed, operated, or certified by OPWDD if they have been convicted of certain violent crimes. It also would deem persons receiving services from a provider licensed, operated, or certified by OPWDD as incapable of consenting to sexual contact with an employee.