Assemblywoman Aileen M. Gunther announced this morning that the Assembly passed a comprehensive package of bills aimed at improving safety measures in New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD)-licensed facilities and programs. The Assembly passed the legislative package following a series of four public hearings statewide that examined allegations of abuse in group homes and institutions throughout the state.
“The abuse and neglect of some individuals with developmental disabilities in OPWDD-licensed facilities and programs is appalling,” Gunther said. “There must be stricter penalties for offenders, better training for employees, and safer environments with high-quality care for all individuals with developmental disabilities must be available. This legislative package will help do just that. It will help protect some of our state’s most vulnerable people.”
The statewide hearings documented a number of troubling cases of alleged abuse and neglect and clearly demonstrated the need for comprehensive reform. Bill Liblick, a local columnist and resident of Sullivan County, testified about his 61 year old sister Paula’s rape and eventual death during the hearing in Albany. Gunther has introduced legislation (A7128) which will require cameras at all entrances and exits of these facilities. The bill, named “Paula’s Law,” continues through the legislative process.
The legislation passed as a result of the hearings will create a prior-abuse notification system for employers to prevent potential employees who have a history of abuse from working with vulnerable individuals (A.8330); mandatory immediate reporting of violent crimes (A.8325); and standardized training for the care providers (A.8323).
“Sexual, physical and verbal abuse in these facilities and programs is completely inexcusable,” Gunther said.“Individuals with developmental disabilities are particularly susceptible because many, like Paula Liblick, are non-verbal or have severe cognitive impairments that inhibit them from defending themselves. We must protect them in every way we can.”
The Assembly’s legislative package also includes bills that will:
• ensure that abuse and neglect investigations involving an employee continue whether the employee resigns his or her position or not, and notices of this policy must be provided to all current and new employees of OPWDD providers (A.8324);
• require OPWDD to make at least three unannounced visits. Currently, OPWDD is required to make at least two facility visits per year where only one of the two visits is unannounced. The bill also would authorize any Developmental 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); and
• ensure that the DDSO ombudsman is an independent advocate by making him or her 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).
“OPWDD-licensed facilities and programs should help improve the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities, not make their lives worse,” Gunther said. “Accountability, assistance and regulations are needed to ensure that OPWDD-licensed facilities and programs are effective and beneficial resources for the people who depend on them.”
The final bill in the legislative package would limit the work week for direct-care workers to less than 60 hours during a seven-day work week except in cases of an extraordinary emergency (A.8127-A).
“The Assembly’s legislation will help prevent further victimization,” Gunther said. “I’m committed to ensuring that individuals with developmental disabilities are kept safe and healthy when under the care of the state.”