Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed better protections for about a million New Yorkers with disabilities and special needs under state-funded care through a new agency with authority to monitor the system and investigate and prosecute abuse claims.
Legislation offered Monday would establish a common definition of abuse and neglect for people in residential facilities and other programs and create a single point for reporting and screening abuse allegations. It would have a hotline, incident database and a list of abusive employees banned from working with the disabled.
Cuomo cites decades of problems, including deaths, and a culture where workers fear speaking up.
"This is about safeguarding the civil rights of the more than one million New Yorkers with disabilities and special needs who for too long have not had the protections and justice they deserve," Governor Cuomo said said in a statement. "The creation of a Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs will give New York State the strongest standards and practices in the country for protecting those who are often the most vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment."
A new special prosecutor and inspector general with more than 400 staff would oversee six state agencies and contractors.
There were more than 10,000 abuse reports last year.
"These are people who are the most vulnerable New Yorkers amongst us. And they are in the state's care," the governor said.
The state's largest public employee unions, whose members could potentially be affected by the measure, weighed in shortly after the announcement.
“CSEA is anxious to review the actual legislation and the entire report in close detail but our initial impression is positive. This new initiative appears to have a broad mission to ensure consistent quality of care and maintain independent oversight of human services in both the public and not-for-profit sectors," said CSEA president Danny Donohue in a statement. "CSEA is particularly encouraged to see that the report recognizes the importance of a strong, well-trained and committed direct support staff.”
PEF's president Ken Brynien said he hopes private facilities will be subject to the same provisions as the state-operated ones.
"We agree with the governor that the abuse and neglect of people with disabilities cannot and should not be tolerated," Brynien said in a statement. "Additionally, private providers who serve people with special needs and disabilities should and must be subject to the same transparency as state facilities and group homes. Information on abuse in facilities operated by private providers is often times shrouded in secrecy.
"Our members who work in the human services agencies are committed, hard working, caring professionals who go to work every day to make people’s lives richer and fuller by providing quality care to those in need."