State under fire for treatment of disabled

Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) said the state Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) said the state isn't moving fast enough to remove abusive workers at developmental centers. (June 29, 2012) Photo Credit: James Escher

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ALBANY -- Flashing a stack of complaints, a Long Island legislator railed Wednesday that the state still isn't "doing what we have to do" to protect residents of homes for the developmentally disabled.

At a State Capitol hearing, Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) said the state isn't moving fast enough to remove abusive workers at developmental centers. At the same forum, parents of disabled adults in those facilities questioned a Cuomo administration proposal to cut mental health spending and to close some psychiatric centers. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said the reduction is tied to federal cuts.

Weisenberg said the state is moving too slowly to protect group-home residents. Cuomo signed a law last year to create a Justice Center to oversee the state's care of the developmentally disabled and mentally ill. But it won't be operative until July.

Meanwhile, Weisenberg said state officials haven't implemented a registry meant to flag and remove group-home workers charged with abuse. And, he added, he's constantly hearing from other families whose complaints aren't addressed.

"See all these emails," Weisenberg, waving a thick stack of papers, told Courtney Burke, the state commissioner for the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities. "This is an outrage. I don't know why we're waiting till July to do what we should be doing."

Burke didn't directly answer Weisenberg but said the Justice Center, once operable, would implement the "strongest standards in the nation" and would be effective in "getting the wrong people out of the system."

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Weisenberg, a leading voice in Albany on the issue, has a 54-year-old son who has cerebral palsy and can't speak. Last fall, he filed a federal lawsuit against a Nassau agency serving the developmentally disabled, alleging his son was physically and psychologically abused at its Plainview living facility.

Meanwhile, a coalition of parents, union employees and sheriffs around the state protested cutbacks at nonprofit service centers and psychiatric centers. Sheriffs said the closing of the latter increases the number of mentally ill people who land in county jails.

The Cuomo administration has proposed trimming $120 million off what it typically allocates to nonprofit groups to provide services for the disabled -- a 6 percent cut. It attributes the cut to a reduction in federal Medicaid aid to the state.

Cuomo said Wednesday he'd be "open" to restoring the funding, but legislators would have to find ways to make up the revenue.

Margaret Raustiala, a Smithtown resident, said if the state reduces nonprofit allocations, she fears her 42-year-old autistic son won't be able to continue his volunteer work at soup kitchens and food banks. One such organization provides transportation for her son and others to do things outside the group home.

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"He can't go anyplace without someone," Raustiala said. "He won't be able to participate in any of his day programs." With Joan Gralla

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