June 21, 2011

Assembly Approves Legislation To Protect
Individuals With Disabilities

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Committee Chair Felix Ortiz announced the passage of a legislative package to better protect and improve the care provided to individuals with developmental disabilities.

The legislation emerged from Assembly hearings conducted by Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), Oversight, Analysis and Investigation Chair Jonathan Bing (D-Manhattan) and Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn) for the purposes of examining allegations of mistreatment and abuse at facilities and programs operated by the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD).

"It is apparent from the testimony we received that New York State needs to seriously reform its system of caring for individuals with developmental disabilities," said Silver (D-Manhattan). "My colleagues and I commend Governor Andrew Cuomo for beginning the process of improving the way New York State cares for these individuals. Our legislative package will give providers and individuals the tools they need to ensure the health and safety of individuals in the care of the OPWDD."

The Assembly's legislative package 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).

"As a result of the troubling testimony we received at our hearings, the Assembly introduced and now has approved legislation to address the allegations of abuse and mistreatment occurring at state run programs and facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities," said Ortiz. "Our state must do a better job of providing a safe and caring environment for the most vulnerable people in our communities and this is what these initiatives would ensure."

Silver and Ortiz also praised Assembly Members Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) and Mark Schroeder (D-Buffalo) for responding to these serious allegations with legislation that provides greater protections 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," said Bing. "With the passage of my bill, I am confident that all employees and volunteers will now receive adequate standard training, which will raise awareness on current and ever changing policies in regards to abuse prevention and proper reporting."

"Choosing appropriate care for a loved one can be a difficult decision," said Weisenberg. "Families place their trust in the hands of direct care workers and expect a safe, caring environment for their family member. The measure which I sponsored and that was approved by the Assembly will establish standards so only qualified people are taking care of individuals with disabilities and not those who have a history of abuse and neglect."

"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.

"The passage of this legislative package 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 OPWDD Quality of Care Legislative Package also would:

The four Assembly hearings to evaluate the quality of care provided to individuals with disabilities at programs and facilities operated by the OPWDD were held in Buffalo, Farmingdale, New York City and Albany earlier this month.