Progress Claimed in New York Hearings on Group Homes, But is it Enough?

We recently brought you this story from The New York Times on public hearings throughout the state of New York in June on the status of “care and safety” for individuals with disabilities in group homes. The final hearing was held Monday, and The New York Times has issued another report on the matter. We’ll pull out some highlights, but you can link to the full article right here.

Courtney Burke, the new commissioner of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, said during the hearings that New York was addressing concerns for those in group homes and institutions. Burke said there are challenges, to be sure, but there have been some improvements in recent months. It should be known that by “improvement” Burke means 60 percent of physical abuse claims are reported to authorities. While this is a significant increase over the 17 percent before she came aboard, 60 percent is hardly a figure to get excited about. She also said 88 percent of allegations of sexual abuse were reported, up from 75 percent. Remember, notification of physical and sexual abuse is already required by law … not 60 or 88 percent of the time, but every time.

“My top priority has been the health and safety of people with developmental disabilities in our care,” Ms. Burke said in her opening statement. “Change does not come easily, but I want to make it clear to you that I am changing things quickly and significantly.”

These hearings were sparked by a series of articles in The New York Times that exposed the state’s mismanagement and failure to address health and safety issues among residents with disabilities. During the final of four hearings, Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, D-Westchester, expressed his concern to the new chief of the Commission on Quality Care, a state agency that is responsible for reviewing how Burke and the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities operates.

Said Abinanti to Roger Bearden, chief of the Commission on Quality Care: “I don’t really understand what your commission is supposed to be doing, and what I’m hearing from you is that your commission doesn’t really seem to know what it’s supposed to be doing.”

While it’s frustrating to read about systemic failures time and time again (this is not just a New York problem), and it’s heart-wrenching to know that – each day – thousands upon thousands are vulnerable to physical, sexual and emotional abuse, we’re encouraged to see The New York Times and other media outlets paying attention to this issue. We hope The Gray Lady continues its coverage, and that you’ll join us in sending along a thoughtful reminder when she doesn’t.

What can we expect to happen as a result of these hearings? Will progress continue until all instances of abuse are reported? Or will the state’s oversight of group homes and institutions continue to be riddled with problems?  Drop us a line in the comments section below to let us know what you think.