NY Governor Paterson plans to re-institutionalize people who have developmental disabilities?

Is this about saving money on facilities with empty beds? Or is it the confused problem solving coming from politicians who have empty heads?

In a Rochester, NY Town Hall Meeting on March 11th, Governor Paterson was asked about his plans for adults who have developmental disabilities who are on long waiting lists for residential programs. Currently, many are living with their families because NY State lacks housing options for this population.

Politicians should know that this is not a new problem - New York has a long and storied history of problems in providing residential services to people who have developmental disabilities. I blogged about the history of the Willowbrook State School several years ago; I encourage you to click this link for a background study of the situation http://abctherapeutics.blogspot.com/2005/11/new-yorks-disgrace-30-years-later.html

Certainly options are different since Willowbrook was closed. Residential treatment programs in the years following 1987 changed from large institutional facilities into smaller Intermediate Care Facilities (which are still quasi-institutional), Individual Residential Alternatives, and even Supported Housing. The much heralded NYS-CARES program was supposed to finally end the residential housing shortage, but it has been a disappointment. On August 19, 1998 Governor George Pataki announced NYS-CARES; this program reportedly met and exceeded goals but the long term problem remains, despite the implementation of NYS-CARES II. Families are still experiencing long delays for residential placement options.

NY State faces unrelated problems with UNDERutilized juvenile youth facilities - there have been some rather infamous arguments and examples regarding the Auburn Residential Center and other facilities that are being kept open and staffed for virtually no one's benefit except the Union jobs that are being maintained for members of the Public Employees Federation. The union argues that NY State is trying to 'privatize' residential programs (same argument they used against NYS-CARES, incidentally) but the reality is that local community-based initiatives for the juvenile population are more effective and less expensive than maintaining these residential centers. OCFS now places most children in programs that are less expensive and more local, but the unions won't let go of the older and more expensive institutional/residential models.

This is where bureaucratic and political cowardice comes roaring forward. These two problems remain intractable unless two things happen: first, NY State would have to honor its commitment made to a vulnerable population because of the historic Willowbrook atrocities, and second, NY State would have to take on the AFL-CIO/PEF and tell them to take a very long walk off of a short pier. In a world that makes sense, we would provide appropriate housing opportunities to adults who have developmental disabilities and we would provide similarly appropriate intervention and care models for children who are skirting around the justice system. This is not an issue about Union jobs - it HAS to be an issue about what is best for these populations who require services and programs.

In NY State things rarely make sense though. Instead, Governor Paterson recently let it slip that he would convert the existing facilities, retrain the staff (in other words he will suck up to the Unions and let them keep their jobs), and use the institutions to warehouse adults who have developmental disabilities and have been waiting for community placement. If you can't believe it, go to this audio recording of the Rochester, NY Town Hall Meeting on March 11th and listen for yourself. The Governor's comments can be found at 37 minutes into the recording.

So Governor Paterson proposes to send the adults who have developmental disabilities back into the antiquated institutional residential options of the Snake Pit - a reversal of nearly thirty years of progressive NY State policy. And like a coward he will do it with a smile while he maintains his good favor with PEF.

According to the Governor, those workers (who previously worked with children who have social, emotional, and conduct disorders) just need 'a little retraining' - as if this would then qualify them to provide safe and competent care for adults who have developmental disabilities.

When we see politicians engaging in conduct that is potentially harmful to vulnerable citizens they must be stopped. Write a letter to Governor Paterson, include a copy of this blog post if you want, and tell him that he needs to come up with better informed solutions. Our most vulnerable citizens deserve better plans than this.


Anonymous said…
Great post Chris. My sister is in an independent living group home in PA. It's not the best situation; but the thought of the institutionalized alternative with untrained union workers is simply frightening.

"A little retraining." Give me a break.

Talk about going backwards.

Peoples lives are at stake here.

Thanks for shedding light on this.
Anonymous said…
Excellent post. Our family moved to NYS in 1986 - I knew nothing of Willowbrook. My brother who has developmental disabilities has lived for several years in various group homes run by The Dr. Gertrude Barber Center (Erie, PA) with much success.
I can't agree more that this solution is not only short-sighted, but a giant step backwards. I am so thankful that my brother was able to be enrolled int he various programs offered by the Barber Center starting at very young age. More emdia exposure is needed to make people aware of the newest project to preserve union goodwill. So much more than "a little retraining" is needed.
Helen said…
It has been my experience that people who share some common parts of their lives ie living with a disabilty can be more senstive and relate better to others with disabilties. it is now clear that our Governor is not an example that relates to my experience. He has shut him self away from others with dsiabilties in order to say what he says or he is a very poor leader

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